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J Gastroenterol. 2014 Mar;49(3):555-63. doi: 10.1007/s00535-013-0883-1. Epub 2013 Sep 23.

High-sensitivity Lens culinaris agglutinin-reactive alpha-fetoprotein assay predicts early detection of hepatocellular carcinoma.

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Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Ogaki Municipal Hospital, 4-86 Minaminokawa-cho, Ogaki, Gifu, 503-8052, Japan,



Prognosis of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains poor because HCC is frequently diagnosed late. Therefore, regular surveillance has been recommended to detect HCC at the early stage when curative treatments can be applied. HCC biomarkers, including Lens culinaris agglutinin-reactive fraction of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP-L3), are widely used for surveillance in Japan. A newly developed immunoassay system measures AFP-L3 % with high sensitivity. This retrospective study aimed to evaluate clinical utility of high-sensitivity AFP-L3 (hs-AFP-L3) as a predictor of early stage HCC in surveillance at a single site.


Of consecutive 2830 patients in the surveillance between 2000 and 2009, 104 HCC-developed and 104 non-HCC patients were selected by eligibility criteria and propensity score matching. Samples were obtained from the HCC patients who had blood drawn annually for 3 years prior to HCC diagnosis.


In the present study, hs-AFP-L3 was elevated 1 year prior to diagnosis in 34.3 % of patients. The survival rate of patients with the hs-AFP-L3 ≥ 7 % at 1 year prior to diagnosis was significantly lower than that of patients with hs-AFP-L3 < 7 %.


Elevation of hs-AFP-L3 was early predictive of development of HCC even at low AFP levels and in absence of ultrasound findings of suspicious HCC. The hs-AFP-L3 should be added to surveillance programs with US because elevated hs-AFP-L3 may be a trigger to perform enhanced imaging modalities for confirmation of HCC.

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