Detection of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) through screening can improve outcomes. However, HCC surveillance remains costly, cumbersome and suboptimal. We tested whether and how serum Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) should be used in HCC surveillance. Record linkage, dedicated pathways for management and AFP data-storage identified i) consecutive highly characterised cases of HCC diagnosed in 2009-14 and ii) a cohort of ongoing HCC-free patients undergoing regular HCC surveillance from 2009. These two well-defined Scottish patient cohorts enabled us to test the utility of AFP surveillance. Of 04 cases of HCC diagnosed over 6 years, 42% (129) were identified by a dedicated HCC surveillance programme. Of these 129, 47% (61) had a detectable lesion first identified by screening ultrasound (US) but 38% (49) were prompted by elevated AFP. Despite pre-HCC diagnosis AFP >20kU/L being associated with poor outcome, 'AFP-detected' tumours were offered potentially curative management as frequently as 'US-detected' HCCs; and had comparable survival. Linearity of serial log10 -transformed AFPs in HCC cases and in the screening 'HCC-free' cohort (n = 1509) provided indicators of high-risk AFP behaviour in HCC cases. An algorithm was devised in static mode, then tested dynamically. A case/control series in hepatitis C related disease demonstrated highly significant detection (p-5) of patients at high risk of developing HCC. These data support the use of AFP in HCC surveillance. We show proof-of-principle that an automated and further refineable algorithmic interpretation of AFP can identify patients at higher risk of HCC. This approach could provide a cost-effective, user-friendly and much needed addition to US surveillance.
- Alpha-Fetoprotein detection (AFP)
- hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
- HCC surveillance