Objective: To evaluate the usefulness of serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in clinical diagnosis and screening for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Methods: Totally 290 HCC patients, 48 liver cirrhosis patients, and 49 healthy subjects were enrolled in this study. Serum AFP analysis was performed to investigate the correlation between the serum AFP level in HCC and the clinical or biochemical parameters of the disease, which included the size and number of tumor and the TNM stage. Sensitivities and specificities of AFP in HCC prediction at different cut-off levels were determined.
Results: The serum AFP level was significantly higher in HCC patients than in liver cirrhosis patients (P = 0.0274) and healthy subjects (P = 0.0001). Among 290 HCC patients, 95 patients (32.8%) were AFP-negative (AFP < 20 microg/L), 195 (67.2%) were AFP-positive (AFP > or =20 microg/L). Sensitivity and specificity of AFP at 20 microg/L cut-off was 67.2% and 29.2%, respectively, and the positive and negative predictive value was 85.2% and 12.8%, respectively. Sensitivity of AFP at 400 microg/L cut-off was only 42.8%. Serum AFP levels were significantly different among HCC with different tumor size (P = 0.0009), tumor number (P = 0.0001), and TNM stage [TNM I vs. TNM III-IV (P = 0.0001); TNM II vs. TNM III-IV (P = 0.0003)].
Conclusions: Increased serum AFP level is highly suggestive in HCC diagnosis. Combined with other imaging examinations, AFP level can be used for the screening of high risk population and for the follow-up of AFP-positive patients.