Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) has the worst prognosis among all major cancers, largely due to the lack of sensitive diagnostic markers. We aimed to compare three HCC tumor markers, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), p53, and AFP-L3%, to evaluate whether measuring serum p53 levels and AFP-L3% has an additive diagnostic value for detection of HCC.
Methods: A total of 86 patients with chronic liver diseases were included. HCC was detected in 68 (79.1%) patients. Twenty healthy age-matched volunteers served as healthy controls. Serum concentrations of AFP, AFP-L3, and p53 protein were measured. The correlations between the three markers with status of viral hepatitis, liver function tests, and Child-Pugh scores were determined.
Results: HCC patients showed significantly higher percentages of cirrhosis and Child-Pugh grade C (p < 0.001 and 0.05, respectively) compared with non-HCC group. AFP-L3% and p53 levels were significantly (p < 0.001, 0.0001, respectively) higher in HCC than non-HCC patients. AFP-L3% was found significantly correlated with Child-Pugh classification (p < 0.05) and alkaline phosphatase (p < 0.01). While, p53 significantly correlated with age and HCV positivity. ROC curve analysis showed that the highest specificity and sensitivity of the studied parameters are gained at cutoffs of 15%, 120.5ng/mL, and 0.14 ng/mL for AFP-L3, AFP, and p53; respectively. Combining AFP-L3 and p53 improved sensitivity to 95.4% with a specificity of 85%.
Conclusions: No significant correlation was found between AFP, AFP-L3%, and p53; however, the simultaneous determination of the three tumor markers yielded a better diagnostic accuracy and sensitivity in the detection of HCCs than each biomarker alone.