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Hepatol Int. 2008 Mar;2(1):17-30. doi: 10.1007/s12072-007-9038-x. Epub 2007 Dec 29.

Diagnostic accuracy of tumor markers for hepatocellular carcinoma: a systematic review.

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Department of Gastroenterology, Graduate School of Medicine, University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-8655, Japan,


Background and aims The role of alphafetoprotein (AFP) in the diagnosis and surveillance of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is getting smaller owing to the advances in imaging modalities. The aims of this study were to assess the diagnostic accuracy of tumor markers in small HCC and to find the optimal cutoff value of each tumor marker for efficient surveillance. Methods Studies in all languages were identified by searching MEDLINE from 1982 to 2002. Studies were included when they showed sensitivity and specificity for HCCs 5 cm or smaller and recruited only patients with chronic hepatitis or liver cirrhosis as control. We assessed diagnostic odds ratios (DORs) for the evaluation of diagnostic accuracy of tumor markers and positive likelihood ratios (LRs+) to find the optimal cutoff value. DORs and LRs+ were combined according to the random effect model. The summary receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve was also assessed. Results Seventeen articles on three tumor markers-AFP, des-gamma-carboxyprothrombin (DCP), and Lens culinaris agglutinin-reactive fraction of AFP (AFP-L3)-were enrolled after full-text evaluation. AFP was inferior to DCP and AFP-L3 in both DOR (4.50 vs. 8.16 and 10.50) and area under the ROC curve (0.647 vs. 0.688 and 0.695). Optimal cutoff values that provide the best LR+ were 200 ng/ml for AFP, 40 mAU/ml for DCP, and 15% for AFP-L3. Conclusions Diagnostic accuracy of AFP in small HCC was substantially limited. Surveillance including other tumor markers with optimal cutoff value should be conducted to confirm the efficacy of the policy.

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