Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) typically develops in cirrhotic livers. In the absence of risk factors, for example, cirrhosis or hepatitis B or C virus infection, HCC diagnosis might be difficult. We aimed to explore the value of immunohistochemical characteristics to diagnostics and prognosis, and whether these immunohistochemical characteristics differ from those of HCC in a cirrhotic liver, possibly indicating an aberrant pathogenetic pathway. Paraffin-embedded, formalin-fixed tissue slides from liver resection specimens of the patients with HCC in a non-cirrhotic liver were analysed. From January 2000 through April 2011, 799 patients with HCC were admitted to our hospital; in total, 47 patients with 50 HCCs in a non-cirrhotic liver were operated. These tumours were stained positive for α-fetoprotein (AFP) in 30%, CD34 in 88%, cytokeratine 7 (CK7) in 44%, CK19 in 12%, glypican-3 (GPC-3) in 40%, glutamine synthetase in 62% and β-catenin in 32%. There was similarity in immunohistochemical expression of several markers comparing HCC in a non-cirrhotic liver with HCC in a cirrhotic liver. Moderate or poorly differentiated HCC more often expressed β-catenin and GPC-3 and showed a higher percentage of MIB-1-positive hepatocytes. A positive AFP immunohistochemical staining was significantly related with a high preoperative AFP serum level (p=0.001). None of the immunohistochemical stainings were associated with a worse overall survival. Of the patients treated with a surgical resection, 17 had recurrence of HCC and these patients more often had a positive CK19 staining (p=0.048). In conclusion, immunohistochemical expression of several markers in HCC in a non-cirrhotic and cirrhotic liver was comparable. Immunohistochemical markers have limited additional value to characterise HCC in non-cirrhoitc livers.
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