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

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Ilntroduction 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)1052-1066
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of hepatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018


  • AFP
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Liver transplantation
  • Milan criteria.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hepatology


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