Clinicopathological Distinction of Low-AFP-Secreting vs. High-AFP-Secreting Hepatocellular Carcinomas

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INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: We aimed to investigate the clinical and pathological differences between low-AFP-secreting (AFP < 20 ng/mL) and high-AFP-secreting (AFP ≥ 20 ng/mL) hepatocellular carcinomas in patients who undergo liver transplant (LT). MATERIAL AND METHODS: We evaluated 145 patients who underwent deceased donor LT for HCC from January 1, 2005 until August 1, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. RESULTS: Median pre-LT AFP in the entire cohort was 13 ng/mL (IQR 6-59). Using serum AFP cutoff of 20 ng/mL, 61 (42%) patients had high-AFP-secreting tumors and 84 (58%) had low-AFP-secreting tumors. Patients with high -AFP-secreting tumors had larger lesions (3 cm vs. 2.4 cm, p = 0.024), and were more likely to have microvascular-invasion (36.1% vs. 20.2%, p = 0.02) and poor-differentiation (18% vs. 4.8%, p = 0.01), and tumor recurrence following LT (28% vs. 6%, p < 0.001). The 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year recurrence-free survival for patients in the low-AFP-secreting group compared to the high-AFP-secreting group were 100%, 92%, 92% vs. 81.3%, 71.3%, 68.5% respectively (p = 0.0003). CONCLUSION: AFP is a suboptimal predictor of tumor recurrence following liver transplant in HCC patients. However, it can have some value in distinguishing more aggressive forms of HCC (high-AFP-secreting) that are associated with higher tumor recurrence. Novel tumor biomarkers are needed that can enhance predicting tumor recurrence following LT based on tumor biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)0-100
Number of pages101
JournalAnnals of Hepatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 16 2018



  • AFP
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Liver transplantation
  • Milan criteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology

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