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
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
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
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
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."