Serum CA 19-9 and alpha-fetoprotein levels in primary hepatocellular carcinoma and liver cirrhosis

C. Fabris, D. A. Basso, G. Leandro, T. Meggiato, S. Elba, M. P. Panozzo, G. Del Favero, P. Fogar, F. Di Mario, R. Naccarato

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Serum CA 19-9 and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels were determined in 211 patients with liver cirrhosis and 27 with primary hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) associated with liver cirrhosis. This was done to determine the usefulness of CA 19-9 level with respect to AFP level in distinguishing between these two illnesses, and to assess the influence of some clinical and biochemical variables on these tests in patients with liver cirrhosis with or without primary HCC. Pathologic AFP values were found in 23 of 27 (sensitivity, 85%) patients with HCC; CA 19-9 levels increased in only 12 of 27 (sensitivity, 44%) HCC patients, the values being comparable with those of patients with liver cirrhosis. In liver cirrhosis a substantial number of false-positive values was found for both markers, although they were higher for CA 19-9 (50 of 211 versus 39 of 211). In liver cirrhosis correlations were found between AFP level and alanine amino-transferase level; and between CA 19-9 level and (1) total bilirubin value, (2) alkaline phosphatase level, and (3) pseudocholinesterase level. The authors conclude that CA 19-9 level is a poor biochemical marker, inferior to AFP level, in the detection of a carcinomatous transformation of liver cirrhosis. The finding of false- positive AFP values in liver cirrhosis seems mainly attributable to cellular proliferation and necrosis. Cholestasis seems to greatly affect serum CA 19-9 level variations, probably by reducing its liver metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1795-1798
Number of pages4
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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