Second-line treatments are standard care for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients with preserved liver function who are intolerant of or progress on first-line therapy. However, determinants of treatment benefit and post-treatment survival (PTS) remain unknown. HCC patients previously treated with sorafenib and enrolled in second-line clinical trials were pooled according to the investigational treatment received and the subsequent regulatory approval: approved targeted agents and immune checkpoint inhibitors (AT) or other agents (OT) not subsequently approved. Univariate and multivariate analyses using Cox proportional hazards models established relationships among treatments received, clinical variables, and overall survival (OS) or PTS. For 174 patients (80 AT; 94 OT) analyzed, baseline factors for longer OS in multivariate analysis were second-line AT, absence of both portal vein thrombosis and extrahepatic spread (EHS). Treatment with AT (versus OT) was associated with significantly longer OS among patients with EHS (p(interaction) = 0.005) and patients with low neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR; p(interaction) = 0.032). Median PTS was 4.0 months (95% CI 2.8-5.3). At second-line treatment discontinuation, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels <400 ng/dl, albumin-bilirubin (ALBI) grade 1, and enrolment onto subsequent trials independently predicted longer PTS. Treatment with AT, PVT, and EHS were prognostic factors for OS, while AFP, ALBI grade and enrolment onto a third-line trial were prognostic for PTS. Presence of EHS and low NLR were predictors of greater OS benefit from AT.
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