Serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels and its expression in liver tissue was studied in 50 cases of histologically confirmed hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Serum AFP levels were elevated (greater than 20iu/ml) in 35/50 (70%) of the cases, 28 of whom had levels greater than 500 iu/ml, which is highly suggestive of HCC. These results indicate that serum AFP, by itself, is a relatively insensitive diagnostic test for HCC. Although elevated levels in high risk patients provide a specific clue, a negative result does not exclude the diagnosis of HCC. Expression of AFP by tumour cells paralleled that of serum in the majority of cases. However, tissue AFP was negative in 7 patients who had markedly elevated serum AFP. This observation may be a reflection of preferential excretion of the tumour antigen or differential expression of the antigen by the tumour cells. None of the patients with normal serum AFP demonstrated a reaction for tissue AFP. There was no correlation between AFP production and tumour differentiation.
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