Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), one of the most common cancers worldwide, usually develops in a liver already suffering from chronic damages, often cirrhosis. There has been marked progress in the treatment of HCC. However, effective treatments are limited to patients with less advanced HCC. The detection of HCC at an early stage is still a prerequisite for improved prognosis. To address this problem, a variety of screening modalities are used, including measurement of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and ultrasonography (US) at regular intervals in high-risk populations. Unfortunately, poor sensitivity and specificity of AFP and the operator-dependency of US limit the value of either test to diagnose early-stage lesions. Other tests, including Lens culinaris agglutinin-reactive AFP and des-gamma carboxyprothrombin (DCP), are currently being evaluated and may be superior to current tests. Recent developments in gene-expressing microarrays and proteomics promise even more potential diagnostic options. The strict application of the Early Detection Research Network methodology will aid in the assessment of their diagnostic utility, and provide an objective basis for the assessment of their clinical utility.
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