Clinical Characteristics and Prognosis of Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Analysis Based on Serum Alpha-fetoprotein Levels

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The purpose of this study was to determine whether a relation does exist between clinicopathologic features and the prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) with respect to serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels at diagnosis. We reviewed the clinical data of 309 pathologically proven HCC cases divided into three groups: group 1 with normal AFP (<20 IU/mL), group 2 with moderately elevated AFP (20–399 IU/mL) and group 3 with markedly elevated AFP (≥400 IU/mL). Of these, there were 76 (24.6%), 78 (25.2%), and 155 patients (50.2%) in groups 1, 2, and 3, respectively. We found that HCC patients with high AFP tended to have greater tumor size, bilobar involvement, massive or diffuse types, and portal vein thrombosis. Nonetheless, we could not establish a correlation between increased AFP and Okuda's stages, degree of tumor differentiation, or extrahepatic metastasis. The median survival rates in groups 1 (6 months) and 2 (7 months) were significantly longer than that of group 3 (3 months). On multivariate logistic regression analysis, positive hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) status and bilobar tumor involvement represented the independent factors for predicting high AFP values. We concluded that AFP is useful not only for diagnosis, but also as a prognostic indicator in patients with HCC . However, it cannot be considered a sensitive tumor marker, particularly during the early stages in HBsAg-negative patients.

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