Is placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP) a useful marker for seminoma?

O S Nielsen, A J Munro, W Duncan, J Sturgeon, M K Gospodarowicz, M A Jewett, A Malkin, G M Thomas
European Journal of Cancer 1990, 26 (10): 1049-54
The usefulness of placental alkaline phosphatase (PLAP) as a tumour marker was assessed in 1578 serum samples from 236 patients with seminoma. Smoking habits were known for all but 7 patients (22 samples). Smoking was associated with significantly higher mean levels of PLAP in disease-free patients (28.8 [S.E. 2.1] U/l vs. 15.9 [1.3] U/l in non-smokers). Mean PLAP levels were higher in patients with active disease (78.6 [23.5] U/l in non-smokers and 47.2 [18.5] U/l in smokers). The median values showed a similar trend. However, there was considerable overlap between the various groups and differences between mean and median values indicated that PLAP values were distributed asymmetrically. The predictive value of PLAP as a tumour marker was consequently much less than superficial inspection of these values might suggest. In 97 patients on surveillance, only 2 out of 11 patients who relapsed had elevated PLAP at the time of clinically detectable relapse. With the upper limit of normal PLAP quoted by our laboratory (35 U/l), specificity and sensitivity were, respectively, 88% and 45% (all patients) and 96% and 47% (non-smokers). The sensitivity and specificity of PLAP were assessed in more detail for a series of threshold values (normal vs. abnormal) with a graphical method. Only in non-smokers did PLAP seem useful and even in this group the positive predictive value of an "abnormal" test may be low; less than 50% in clinically relevant circumstances. Serum PLAP assay cannot usefully stand alone as a marker for seminoma and its routine estimation contributes little to follow-up.

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