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Oncologist. 2009 Jul;14(7):717-25. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2009-0038. Epub 2009 Jul 6.

Serum alpha-fetoprotein response as a surrogate for clinical outcome in patients receiving systemic therapy for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.



The role of serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) as a marker for treatment response in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) receiving systemic therapy is poorly defined.


A retrospective study was performed on patients with advanced HCC enrolled in five phase II clinical trials. Serum AFP was prospectively collected at baseline and at different time points through treatment in parallel with radiologic response and clinical outcome. Patients were separated into three groups based on a 50% change in serum AFP from baseline. Overall survival (OS), progression-free survival (PFS), and radiologic responses were compared between groups using log-rank and Wilcoxon tests.


Of 144 patients, 107 met the eligibility criteria. Eighteen patients experienced a >50% AFP decline, 57 patients had a >50% AFP increase, and 32 patients had a <50% change in serum AFP in either direction. Compared with patients with a <50% change in serum AFP (median PFS, 5.6 months), patients with a >50% AFP decrease had a longer PFS time (median, 16.9 months; p = .029), whereas those with a >50% increase had a shorter PFS time (median, 2.3 months; p = .038). Patients with a >50% rise in AFP had a shorter OS time than those with a <50% change (median, 6.3 months versus 11.1 months, respectively; p = .004), whereas a >50% AFP decrease was not associated with a significant difference in OS (median, 13.0 months; p = .87). AFP changes were significantly associated with radiologic response.


Our study suggests that serum AFP change during treatment may serve as a useful surrogate marker for clinical outcome in patients with advanced HCC receiving systemic therapy.

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