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Keywords:

  • Cirrhosis;
  • Glycomics;
  • Hepatitis B virus;
  • Hepatitis C virus;
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma

Purpose

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a primary cancer of the liver that is predominantly the result of infection with a hepatotropic virus such as hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus. As liver cancer is often asymptomatic, the development of sensitive noninvasive biomarkers is needed for early detection and improved survival.

Experimental design

We have previously identified alterations in the N-linked glycosylation of serum proteins with the development of HCC and identified many of the proteins that contained the altered glycosylation. In the current study, we compared the ability of the identified proteins to diagnose HCC with the total serum glycan analysis.

Results

Surprisingly, glycan analysis of total serum had the greatest ability to distinguish HCC from cirrhosis with an AUROC of 0.851, a sensitivity of 73% at a specificity of 88%. When total glycan sequencing was combined with alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), the sensitivity increased to 95% at a specificity of 90%.

Conclusion and clinical relevance

Changes in glycosylation as detected in whole serum could be used to diagnose HCC with greater sensitivity and specificity than that observed through the analysis of specific protein glycoforms or protein levels. Such an assay could have value in the management of those at risk for the development of HCC.