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Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), as the most widely used biomarker of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), was correlated with ongoing liver damage. The aim of this study was to evaluate the ability of inflammatory correction-based AFP to identify HCC from other liver diseases.

From March 2012 to March 2017, among 926 participants, a total of 501 patients whose transaminases were higher than the upper limit of normal range, including 166 treatment-naive HCC patients were enrolled in our retrospective study. The liver function, white blood cell (WBC) count and serum AFP level of all patients were collected at the initial stage of admission. The area under the receiver-operating curve (AUROC) of AFP, AFP/(Aspartate aminotransferase*Alanine aminotransferase) [AFP/(AST*ALT)] and AFP/WBC were compared between the HCC group and the control groups for the quantifying diagnostic efficacy.

AUROCs of our novel index AFP/(AST*ALT) were up to 0.853 (95% confidence interval, CI 0.818-0.887, P < .001) and 0.825 (95% CI 0.782-0.868, P < .001), respectively, when differentiating HCC from non-HCC patients and from cirrhosis patients, which was superior to AFP and AFP/WBC. Diagnostic performance of AFP/(AST*ALT) could be verified in hepatitis B virus (HBV)- or hepatitis C virus (HCV)-associated HCC patients as well. What's more, AFP/(AST*ALT) had a significant positive and moderate correlation with tumor diameter and presence of cancerous emboli or not (Spearman correlation coefficients were 0.323 and 0.305, respectively; both P < .001). For predicting HCC, the optimal cut-off value of AFP/(AST*ALT) is 1.603, and the sensitivity and specificity were 82.8% and 72.7%, respectively, which were significantly higher than the AFP and AFP/WBC.

The serum AFP levels based on correction of liver inflammation can effectively improve the diagnostic performance of HCC, providing a new indicator that is simple, economical and pervasive for clinic.

Copyright (C) 2019 The Authors. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.