Background: The usefulness of C-reactive protein (CRP) as a tumour marker in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is controversial. The purpose of this study was to determine whether CRP estimation could be used to identify patients with HCC among those with cirrhosis.
Methods: Serum levels of CRP and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) were investigated in 122 previously untreated patients with cirrhosis and HCC. Another 76 patients with cirrhosis alone were also investigated as controls.
Results: Of the subjects tested, 47.5% of patients with HCC and 39.5% of controls had elevated CRP values (> 6 microg/mL). Although using elevated CRP and/or AFP (> 20 ng/mL) as a criterion showed a significant difference between controls and patients with multiple nodular, massive, or diffuse type HCC (all P < 0.005), the clinical application of this criterion was limited because of low specificity (58%) and accuracy (all < 73%). By using receiver-operating characteristic curves no valuable threshold value of CRP was found to discriminate various types of HCC, except for distinguishing the diffuse type from controls. The CRP value of 12 microg/mL could be used as the cut-off value to differentiate diffuse-type HCC from controls (sensitivity 82.4%, specificity 82%, accuracy 82.1%, P<0.005).
Conclusions: Serum CRP is not a good marker for HCC. However, very high values of CRP in patients with cirrhosis may suggest the presence of a diffuse-type HCC.