A clinical study of serum human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Indian J Cancer. 2021 Jul 16. doi: 10.4103/ijc.IJC_752_19. Online ahead of print.


Background: Pancreatic cancer (PC) has poor early diagnosis rates due to its insidious onset. Since human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) is highly expressed in patients with PC, we assessed whether serum HE4 could be a marker for the detection 3 of PC.

Method: Between May 2017 and October 2018, 127 patients with PC were recruited for the study along with 108 healthy controls who underwent health examinations. Serum HE4 concentrations were determined together with levels of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and carbohydrate antigens (CA) 242 (CA242), CA19-9, CA15-3, and CA72-4 by electrochemiluminescence immunoassay (ECLIA) or chemiluminescence immunoassay (CLIA). Correlations between these biomarkers were assessed.

Results: Serum levels of all six biomarkers were higher in patients with PC than in controls (P < 0.05). No correlation was observed between the serum levels of HE4 and the five other tumor markers, although there were strongly significant positive correlations between CA19-9 and CA15-3, and between CA242 and CA72-4. The lack of correlation indicates that HE4 has independent value in the diagnosis of PC. The combined assessment of serum HE4 levels and the other tumor markers improved the sensitivity of diagnosis. In particular, HE4 combined with CA19-9 performed significantly better than HE4 alone, or CA19-9 combined with the other markers. The HE4/CA19-9 combination resulted in 94.49% sensitivity and 99.07% specificity (95% confidence interval: 96.9-100).

Conclusion: HE4 is a biomarker associated with PC with a high specificity , either used alone, or evaluated with other biomarkers together improving the detection of PC. This study may provide a new clinical diagnostic approach for PC detection.

Keywords: Early detection of pancreatic cancer; pancreatic cancer; receiver operating characteristic; tumor markers.