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PLoS One. 2016 Dec 20;11(12):e0168189. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0168189. eCollection 2016.

Optimizing Surveillance Performance of Alpha-Fetoprotein by Selection of Proper Target Population in Chronic Hepatitis B.

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Department of Medicine, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, Seongnam, Republic of Korea.
Department of Internal Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Division of Statistics, Medical Research Collaborating Center, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, Seongnam, Republic of Korea.


Although alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is the most widely used biomarker in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) surveillance, disease activity may also increase AFP levels in chronic hepatitis B (CHB). Since nucleos(t)ide analog (NA) therapy may reduce not only HBV viral loads and transaminase levels but also the falsely elevated AFP levels in CHB, we tried to determine whether exposure to NA therapy influences AFP performance and whether selective application can optimize the performance of AFP testing in CHB during HCC surveillance. A retrospective cohort of 6,453 CHB patients who received HCC surveillance was constructed from the electronic clinical data warehouse. Covariates of AFP elevation were determined from 53,137 AFP measurements, and covariate-specific receiver operating characteristics regression analysis revealed that albumin levels and exposure to NA therapy were independent determinants of AFP performance. C statistics were largest in patients with albumin levels ≥ 3.7 g/dL who were followed without NA therapy during study period, whereas AFP performance was poorest when tested in patients with NA therapy during study and albumin levels were < 3.7 g/dL (difference in C statics = 0.35, p < 0.0001). Contrary to expectation, CHB patients with current or recent exposure to NA therapy showed poorer performance of AFP during HCC surveillance. Combination of concomitant albumin levels and status of NA therapy can identify subgroup of CHB patients who will show optimized AFP performance.

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