The aim of the current study is to identify underlying pathology associated with elevated serum α-fetoprotein (AFP; >20 ng/ml) among patients referred to a tertiary-care academic medical center with emphasis in liver diseases, hepatobiliary surgery, and liver transplantation. From May 1992 to April 1997, 386 patients (320 adults and 66 children) with elevated AFP (>20 ng/ml) were identified from the Medical Archival System (MARS) database at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The medical records from all these patients were retrospectively reviewed. Radiological, pathological, and biochemical profiles were obtained at the time of documented elevated AFP. These patients included: 218 adults with malignancies, 102 adults without malignancies, 18 children and infants with malignancies, and 48 children and infants without malignancies. Thirty-two percent of adults were found to have raised AFP with liver disease and without hepatocellular carcinoma and 78% had some type of malignancy, predominantly hepatocellular carcinoma. Seventy-three percent of infants and children had elevated AFP without malignancy. Based on our findings, we recommend that all patients (adults, infants and children) with raised AFP of >20 ng/ml should undergo thorough evaluation to rule out malignant disease.
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