An analysis of the UNOS liver transplant registry: high serum alpha-fetoprotein does not justify an increase in MELD points for suspected hepatocellular carcinoma.
The current United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) criteria for liver transplantation gives priority to patients with elevated serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP; > or = 500 ng/mL) in the absence of radiologic evidence of a hepatic mass. Reports have shown that an elevated serum AFP is a poor diagnostic indicator for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in patients with cirrhosis. Our aim was to determine if an AFP level above 500 ng/mL, in the absence of a liver mass by imaging study, correlates with the presence of HCC. Using the UNOS database we identified all patients transplanted for HCC in the United States between February 2002 and October 2005 based on these criteria. The data collected included: patient demographics, clinical information, and pathological outcomes. The data was analyzed using a chi-squared t-test and confirmed by logistic regression modeling. A total of 22 patients received a cadaveric liver transplant, while 1 received a living donor transplant during the study period. HCC was confirmed posttransplantation in only 6 patients (26%). There was no difference in race, gender, etiology of liver disease, or AFP level between patients with and without HCC but a significant difference in age (59.8 yr for HCC patients vs. 51.3 yr for the non-HCC group; P = 0.01). In conclusion, the majority of the patients who received extra Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) points based on an elevated AFP did not have HCC. Older age was a significant predictor for the presence of HCC in patients with a serum AFP greater than 500 ng/mL. These results demonstrate the poor correlation of serum AFP with the presence of HCC in patients awaiting liver transplantation.
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