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Keywords:

  • alpha-fetoprotein;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • hepatitis C virus;
  • interferon

Abstract

Background and Aim:  Elevated serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels are noted in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) without hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The change in AFP levels after treatment with pegylated interferon and ribavirin (Peg-IFN/RBV) combination therapy is still unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the predictors of elevated serum AFP in patients with CHC, and its change after Peg-IFN/RBV therapy.

Methods:  A total of 123 patients, intended to receive pegylated interferon alfa-2a plus ribavirin therapy, were enrolled. Eighty-three patients had complete treatment and received follow up for and additional 24 weeks. The factors that may affect the elevation of pretreatment AFP and the normalization of post-treatment AFP were determined.

Results:  The mean AFP level was 18.5 ± 63.0 ng/mL (range, 1.3–676.0 ng/mL); 41 (33.3%) of the 123 patients had elevated serum AFP (more than 10 ng/mL) at baseline. A multivariate logistic regression analysis disclosed that older age (odds ratio [OR], 1.093; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.015–1.177; P = 0.018), more advanced METAVIR fibrosis stage (OR, 5.237; 95% CI, 1.244–22.037; P = 0.024), a higher aspartate aminotransferase (AST) level (IU/L) (OR, 1.020; 95% CI, 1.008–1.033; P = 0.001), and lower platelet count (×109/L, OR, 0.985; 95% CI, 0.968–0.994; P = 0.003) were independent determinants of pretreatment AFP elevation. After treatment, 72 of 83 (86.7%) cases were found to have normal post-treatment AFP levels (<10 ng/mL) at the end of follow up (EOF). Post-treatment negativity of the chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV)-RNA (OR, 10.014; 95% CI, 1.000–100.329; P = 0.050) and the post-treatment platelet count (×109/L) (OR, 1.025; 95% CI, 1.001–1.050; P = 0.040) were associated with normal AFP at EOF. AFP progressively decreased with significant differences starting from the 12th week after treatment to the end of treatment, and was lowest at the EOF date for the sustained viral response (SVR) group. On the contrary, the non-SVR group did not have an AFP change during and after treatment.

Conclusion:  Older age, low platelet count, higher AST levels, and advanced fibrosis predisposed chronic hepatitis C patients without HCC to have elevated serum AFP levels. After Peg-IFN/RBV combination therapy, a higher platelet count and HCV viral eradication were determinants of normal AFP at EOF. Serial AFP levels decreased after treatment, presenting in a time-dependent manner, specifically for the SVR group.