Chronic hepatitis B (CHB) infection is a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Previous studies showed that elevated levels of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) DNA and HBsAg are associated with increased HCC risk in patients with chronic HBV infection. Multiple studies showed that high levels of HBV DNA and Hepatitis B Surface Antigen (HBsAg) are associated with higher HCC risk in CHB patients. Patients treated with antiviral therapy may have undetectable or low levels of HBV DNA and HBsAg loss. However, HCC may develop in some patients with low-level HBV DNA and HBsAg seroconversion. In this study, we evaluated the role of HBcrAg in predicting HBV related HCC development. We searched PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science databases using keywords (hepatitis B core-related antigen, hepatocellular carcinoma, liver neoplasm, hepatocellular and hepatic cancer, to identify studies assessing serum level of HBcrAg in patients with CHB and HCC. The search resulted in 184 studies. Seven studies were included: Four of which were retrospective cohort studies, and the rest were prospective cohort, case controls. Six of them reported a higher HBcrAg positivity rate in the HCC group when compared with the HBV DNA assay, yet with similar hazard ratio (HR) in predicting the incidence of HCC. However, four studies found that HBcrAg positivity was an independent risk factor for HCC development with a HR ranging from 3.27 to 7.05. HBV-related HCC has many proposed biomarkers in its prediction, yet our findings revealed HBcrAg to may have superiority over other biomarkers. High quality studies with bigger sample size research is needed to understand the potential role of HBcrAg in CHB induced HCC.
Keywords: HBcrAg; HCC; core antigen; hepatitis B; systematic review.
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