Division of Surgical Oncology, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky 40206, USA. Npburn01@louisville.edu
The Barcelona Clinic Liver Cancer (BCLC) staging classification is commonly used for staging hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This system assumes the coexistence of cirrhosis; however, a significant proportion of patients with HCC present without cirrhosis. Recently, an alternative system was proposed that stratifies patients according to alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) level. The aim of this study was to apply the AFP staging system to noncirrhotic patients with HCC and evaluate its ability to predict overall survival (OS). A prospective hepatopancreatobiliary database was reviewed for all patients with a diagnosis of HCC. Patients were staged based on BCLC classification as well as by AFP stage according to four levels: less than 10 ng/mL, 10 to 150 ng/mL, 150 to 500 ng/mL, and greater than 500 ng/mL. Cirrhotic patients were compared with noncirrhotic patients in terms of patient demographics and HCC stage. Kaplan-Meier (KM) analysis of OS was performed for noncirrhotic patients according to BCLC and AFP staging systems. Cirrhotic and noncirrhotic patients differed significantly in terms of median age at presentation (64 vs 70 years, P < 0.001) and gender (76 vs 65% male, P = 0.006). BCLS staging classification did not distinguish between cirrhotics and noncirrhotics (P = 0.733), whereas AFP staging demonstrated a significant difference between the two groups (P < 0.0001). KM analysis of OS for noncirrhotic patients with HCC was significant for both the BCLC and the AFP staging systems (P = 0.003 vs P < 0.0001, respectively). Patients presenting with HCC in the absence of cirrhosis appear to have different characteristics than patients with cirrhosis. Staging according to AFP level is an appropriate predictor of prognosis in noncirrhotic patients with HCC.