Published online Jul 28, 2016. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v8.i21.881
Peer-review started: March 28, 2016
First decision: May 17, 2016
Revised: May 30, 2016
Accepted: June 27, 2016
Article in press: June 29, 2016
Published online: July 28, 2016
Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is the main tumor biomarker available for the management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Although it is neither a good screening test nor an accurate diagnostic tool for HCC, it seems to be a possible prognostic marker. However, its contribution in liver transplantation for HCC has not been fully determined, although its use to predict recurrence after liver transplantation has been underlined by international societies. In an era of organ shortages, it could also have a key role in the selection of patients eligible for liver transplantation. Yet unanswered questions remain. First, the cut-off value of serum AFP above which liver transplantation should not be performed is still a subject of debate. We show that a concentration of 1000 ng/mL could be an exclusion criterion, whereas values of < 15 ng/mL indicate patients with an excellent prognosis whatever the size and number of tumors. Monitoring the dynamics of AFP could also prove useful. However, evidence is lacking regarding the values that should be used. Today, the real input of AFP seems to be its integration into new criteria to select patients eligible for a liver transplantation. These recent tools have associated AFP values with morphological criteria, thus refining pre-existing criteria, such as Milan, University of California, San Francisco, or “up-to-seven”. We provide a review of the different criteria submitted within the past years. Finally, AFP can be used to monitor recurrence after transplantation, although there is little evidence to support this claim. Future challenges will be to draft new international guidelines to implement the use of AFP as a selection tool, and to determine a clear cut-off value above which liver transplantation should not be performed.
Core tip: Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is the main biomarker available for the management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Yet, its contribution in liver transplantation for HCC has not been fully determined. We discuss the interest of AFP as a prognostic factor to predict tumor recurrence after liver transplantation, and as a selection tool to assess the best candidates to receive a graft. We also provide an overview of the different ways that AFP could be included in decisional algorithms before liver transplantation, through its static and dynamic values.