Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is a marker of the presence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), but is also elevated in advanced chronic hepatitis B. The detection and usage of AFP tests need to be improved. A cohort of 101 patients with advanced chronic hepatitis B and elevated AFP values was treated with entecavir (ETV) or peginterferon-α2a. ETV was more effective in reducing AFP levels; mean time to AFP normalization was 11.9 weeks after ETV treatment initiation vs 22.3 weeks in peginterferon treated patients (P = 0.000). An additional cohort of 93 hepatitis B virus (HBV) cirrhotic patients with elevated AFP were treated with ETV prospectively and maintained under intensive surveillance. HCC developed in 16 (17.2%) patients in whom the strongest independent predictor was a continued AFP rise in spite of ongoing treatment. In this context, nodules of sizes 10-14 mm and 15-20 mm were detected in 40% of patients each. In conclusion, HBV cirrhotic patients with rising AFP levels were at very high risk of HCC development. Early detection of minute lesions may be possible by monitoring AFP levels, whilst patients are on treatment in conjunction with enhanced computed tomography examination.
- Antiviral therapy
- Chronic hepatitis B
- Minute hepatocellular carcinoma