Background: Biliary tract cancer (BTC) and benign biliary strictures can be difficult to differentiate using standard tumour markers such as serum carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) as they lack diagnostic accuracy.
Methods: Two-dimensional difference gel electrophoresis and tandem mass spectrometry were used to profile immunodepleted serum samples collected from cases of BTC, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), immunoglobulin G4-associated cholangitis and healthy volunteers. The serum levels of one candidate protein, leucine-rich α-2-glycoprotein (LRG1), were verified in individual samples using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and compared with serum levels of CA19-9, bilirubin, interleukin-6 (IL-6) and other inflammatory markers.
Results: We report increased LRG1, CA19-9 and IL-6 levels in serum from patients with BTC compared with benign disease and healthy controls. Immunohistochemical analysis also demonstrated increased staining of LRG1 in BTC compared with cholangiocytes in benign biliary disease. The combination of receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves for LRG1, CA19-9 and IL-6 demonstrated an area under the ROC curve of 0.98. In addition, raised LRG1 and CA19-9 were found to be independent predictors of BTC in the presence of elevated bilirubin, C-reactive protein and alkaline phosphatase.
Conclusion: These results suggest LRG1, CA19-9 and IL-6 as useful markers for the diagnosis of BTC, particularly in high-risk patients with PSC.