Des-gamma-carboxy (abnormal) prothrombin and hepatocellular carcinoma: a critical review

Hepatology. 1993 Oct;18(4):990-7. doi: 10.1002/hep.1840180434.


Des-gamma-carboxyprothrombin (DCP) appears to be a useful tumor marker for the evaluation of patients with HCC. DCP is produced by the malignant hepatocyte and appears to result from an acquired posttranslational defect in the vitamin K-dependent carboxylase system. DCP production is independent of vitamin K deficiency, although pharmacological doses of vitamin K can transiently suppress DCP production in some tumors. DCP levels greater than 0.1 AU/ml (100 ng/ml) on ELISA are highly suggestive of HCC or tumor recurrence. Normalization of DCP levels correlates well with successful tumor resection and appears to be an excellent marker of tumor activity. Plasma DCP does not correlate with AFP levels. However, when used together, DCP and AFP assays increase the sensitivity to HCC in more than 85% of patients. The specificity of the DCP assay appears to be superior to that of AFP; fewer than 5% of patients with nonmalignant liver disorders have DCP levels in excess of 100 ng/ml. In patients with medium to large HCC, DCP levels do correlate with tumor size. In tumors of less than 3 cm, DCP levels are increased in only 20% of patients. However, the diagnostic threshold for the DCP assay may be improved by newer assays that can detect partially carboxylated DCP species not measured by the monoclonal antibody-based ELISA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Protein Precursors*
  • Prothrombin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Prothrombin / analysis
  • Prothrombin / metabolism
  • Vitamin K / physiology


  • Biomarkers
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Protein Precursors
  • Vitamin K
  • acarboxyprothrombin
  • Prothrombin