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Reuters Health Information (2005-06-22): Tumor cell antigens serve as novel liver cancer marker


Tumor cell antigens serve as novel liver cancer marker

Last Updated: 2005-06-22 11:07:41 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Serum levels of squamous cell carcinoma antigen (SCCA) immunoglobulin M (IgM) immune complexes (ICs) act as a biomarker for hepatocellular carcinoma and may make earlier detection possible, Italian researchers report in the June 15th issue of Cancer.

"Our findings on the discovery of a more sensitive and specific biomarker (SCCA-IC) for liver cancer are relevant not only to significantly improve current diagnostic accuracy in disease detection but more importantly in surveillance programs to more efficiently monitor at-risk patients," senior investigator Dr. Giorgio Fassina told Reuters Health.

Dr. Fassina of Xeptagen S.p.A., Pozzuoli and colleagues note that early detection of hepatocellular carcinoma is difficult because of the low specificity and sensitivity of current biomarkers. They recently found that SCCA variants were "overexpressed remarkably" in resected hepatocellular carcinomas.

The researchers compared the utility of serum levels of SCCA and alpha-fetoprotein. One hundred sixty serum samples from patients with various liver disorders and 73 serum samples from healthy controls were evaluated.

They found that 70% of liver cancer patients (35 of 50) showed serum reactive for SCCA-IgM IC, but the complex was undetectable in healthy controls.

Alpha-fetoprotein levels were significantly elevated in only 42% of the patients. However using a cut-off value for alpha-fetoprotein of 20 ng/mL, 96% of the patients were positive for at least one marker.

In cirrhotic patients, circulating SCCA-IgM IC was seen in 26% (13 of 50) but at significantly lower levels than in the cancer patients. Even lower levels were seen in the 9 of 50 (18%) of chronic hepatitis patients who were reactive.

The researchers note that hepatocellular carcinoma develops in more than 90% of patients who are affected by cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis and "mass screening may be justified."

Cancer 2005;103:2558-2565.

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