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799
Paraneoplastic Syndromes in Patients with
Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Taiwan
Jiing-Chyuan Luo, M.D.1
Shinn-Jang Hwang, M.D.1
Jaw-Ching Wu, M.D., Ph.D.1
Chung-Pin Li, M.D.1
Linag-Tsai Hsiao, M.D.2
Chiung-Ru Lai, M.D.3
Jen-Huei Chiang, M.D.4
Wing-Yiu Lui, M.D.5
Full-Young Chang, M.D.1
Shou-Dong Lee, M.D.2
1
Division of Gastroenterology, Veterans General
Hospital-Taipei and National Yang-Ming University
School of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan.
2
Department of Medicine, Veterans General Hospital-Taipei and National Yang-Ming University
School of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan.
3
Department of Pathology, Veterans General Hospital-Taipei and National Yang-Ming University
School of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan.
4
Department of Radiology, Veterans General Hospital-Taipei and National Yang-Ming University
School of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan.
5
Department of Surgery, Veterans General Hospital-Taipei and National Yang-Ming University
School of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan.
BACKGROUND. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common malignancy
in Taiwan. Some patients may manifest paraneoplastic syndromes during the
clinical course of the disease. In this study, the authors evaluated the clinical
significance of these paraneoplastic syndromes, compared the prevalence of these
syndromes between cases of hepatitis B virus (HBV)–related and hepatitis C virus
(HCV)–related HCC, and estimated significant predictors associated with the syndromes.
METHODS. Clinical data on 1197 HCC patients, including age, gender, Child–Pugh
score, survival time, laboratory data (including liver biochemistry, hepatitis markers, and serum a-fetoprotein [AFP]), and tumor features (including tumor size,
portal vein thrombosis, and histologic pictures), were retrospectively reviewed.
RESULTS. A total of 232 of 1197 patients (19.4%) had paraneoplastic syndromes.
HCC patients with paraneoplastic syndromes had significantly higher serum AFP;
higher rates of initial main portal vein thrombosis, metastasis, and bilobal tumor
involvement; larger tumor volume; and shorter survival than those without these
syndromes. Patients with HBV-related HCC had a significantly higher prevalence of
paraneoplastic syndromes than patients with HCV-related HCC (20.1% vs. 11.2%,
P 5 0.005). In a stepwise multivariate logistic regression analysis, AFP .50,000
ng/mL and tumor volume .30% were significant predictive variables associated
with the presence of paraneoplastic syndromes in HCC patients.
CONCLUSIONS. HCC patients with paraneoplastic syndromes usually had higher
levels of serum AFP and larger tumor volumes than those without. Patients with
HBV-related HCC had a significantly higher prevalence of paraneoplastic syndromes than those with HCV-related HCC. Cancer 1999;86:799 – 804.
© 1999 American Cancer Society.
KEYWORDS: a-fetoprotein, erythrocytosis, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, hepatocellular carcinoma, hypercalcemia, hypercholesterolemia, hypoglycemia, paraneoplastic syndromes.
H
Supported by a grant from Veterans General Hospital-Taipei, Taiwan.
Address for reprints: Shinn-Jang Hwang, M.D.,
Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Veterans General Hospital-Taipei, 201 ShihPai Road, Section 2, Taipei, 11217, Taiwan.
Received September 29, 1998; revision received
March 8, 1999; accepted April 1, 1999.
© 1999 American Cancer Society
epatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common malignancy
in Taiwan. During its clinical course, patients may manifest a
variety of paraneoplastic syndromes, including hypercholesterolemia,
hypoglycemia, hypercalcemia, and erythrocytosis.1– 8 According to
our previous reports, the incidences of these syndromes were 11.4% if
hypercholesterolemia, 2.8% if hypoglycemia, 1.8% if hypercalcemia,
and 2.5% if erythrocytosis.9 –12
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is endemic in Taiwan, with a
prevalence rate of 15–20%. In contrast, the prevalence of hepatitis C
virus (HCV) infection is only 1–2% in the general Taiwanese population, although very high prevalence has been found in several townships.13,14 According to previous reports, hepatitis B surface antigen
(HBsAg) and anti-HCV were positive in 74 –77% and 12–19% of HCC
800
CANCER September 1, 1999 / Volume 86 / Number 5
patients, respectively, in Taiwan.15,16 Here, we evaluate the clinical significance of HCC patients with paraneoplastic syndromes, compare the prevalence of
these syndromes between HBsAg positive and antiHCV positive HCC patients, and assess whether differences in laboratory data and tumor features exist between the two groups.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The clinical, laboratory, and imaging data were reviewed for 1472 consecutive new or follow-up patients
diagnosed with HCC at the Division of Gastroenterology, Veterans General Hospital-Taipei, from January,
1991 to December, 1994. Of these patients, 1253 were
enrolled in this study who met the following criteria: 1)
histologic proof of HCC or 2) at least two typical HCC
image findings (ultrasonography, computerized tomography, celiac angiography, or magnetic resonance
imaging) along with a serum a-fetoprotein (AFP)
level . 20 ng/mL. Finally, data from 1197 patients
were analyzed after excluding patients with alcoholassociated cirrhosis and HCC as well as patients who
lacked complete examination and data for analysis.
We defined hypercholesterolemia as a serum cholesterol level . 250 mg/dL (two standard deviations
[S.D.] above the mean value of age- and gendermatched, healthy controls) after excluding past history
of diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, past history or
family history of hypercholesterolemia, and evidence
of extrahepatic biliary obstruction.9 We defined hypoglycemia as a plasma glucose , 60 mg/dL.17,18 Hypercalcemia was defined as a serum calcium level . 11.0
mg/dL after adjustment by serum albumin concentrations and excluding hyperparathyroidism and medication- and bony metastasis-induced hypercalcemia.11 Erythrocytosis was defined as a hemoglobin
level . 16.7 gm/dL or a hematocrit level . 50% (two
S.D. above the mean value of age- and gendermatched, healthy controls) after excluding secondary
erythrocytosis due to chronic pulmonary disease, residence at high altitudes, and polycythemia vera.10
Underlying cirrhosis was diagnosed histologically
or by characteristic image findings with the presence
of ascites or esophageal varices. Patients with cirrhosis
were given a score from 5 to 15 according to the
Child–Pugh classification.19 Tumor volume was calculated from computerized tomographic films and was
expressed as the percentage of tumor volume divided
by total liver volume. The grade of differentiation and
arrangement of tumor cells were assessed by a liver
pathologist according to the classification of Edmondson and Steiner.20 The pathologist was not given any
clinical information pertaining to the biopsy specimens.
All clinical data, including age, gender, Child–
Pugh scores, liver biochemistry (measured with a Hitachi model 736 automatic analyzer, Tokyo, Japan),
prothrombin time, and complete blood count, were
recorded when HCC was first diagnosed and at the
time of development of the paraneoplastic syndromes.
Serum AFP was measured by using a commercial kit
(ELSA2-AFP; CIS Bio-International, Cedex, France) at
each hospitalization after HCC was diagnosed. Initial
serum AFP was defined as the AFP value when HCC
was first diagnosed, and peak serum AFP was defined
as the greatest AFP value measured during the clinical
course of HCC. Anti-HCV was measured by using a
second-generation enzyme immunoassay kit (Abbott
Laboratories, Chicago, IL). The serum markers of HBsAg, antibody to HBV core antigen (anti-HBc), antiHBs, and antibody to hepatitis D virus (Abbott Laboratories) were recorded. Initial main portal vein (MPV)
thrombosis was defined as evidence of MPV tumor
invasion when HCC was first diagnosed. Distant metastases to extrahepatic regional lymph nodes or other
organs were evaluated by imaging studies. Initial metastasis was defined as evidence of tumor spread upon
diagnosis of HCC. Methods of therapy for HCC, including surgical resection of tumor, transcatheter arterial chemoembolization (TAE), sonoguided percutaneous ethanol injection, systemic chemotherapy, and
survival time, were recorded.
Data in the text and tables are expressed as the
mean 6 S.D., the median, and/or the range. Serum
levels of alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate
aminotransferase (AST), and AFP were analyzed by
using raw data and data after logarithmic transformation. Results were compared between groups by using
the chi-square test or Fisher exact test, the Student
t-test, or the Mann–Whitney test, depending on the
type of data analyzed. Survival adjusted for therapy
was analyzed by using the Kaplan–Meier method and
was compared by using the log-rank method. Univariate, multivariate logistic regression using SPSS software (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL) was performed to evaluate the predictive values of the patients’ clinical,
laboratory, and tumor features associated with paraneoplastic syndromes. For all tests, only results with
P , 0.05 were considered to be statistically significant.
RESULTS
Among the 1197 HCC patients for final analysis, the
mean age was 62 6 12 years, with a range of 13– 89
years. Males were predominant, with a male-to-female-ratio of 6.8:1.0. Seven hundred sixty-three patients (63.7%) were HBsAg positive, 187 patients
(15.6%) were anti-HCV positive, 55 patients (4.6%)
were positive for both HBsAg and anti-HCV, 22 pa-
Paraneoplastic Syndromes in HCC/Luo et al.
801
TABLE 1
Comparison of Clinical and Laboratory Data and Tumor Features between Hepatocellular Carcinoma Patients with and without Paraneoplastic
Syndromes
Characteristic
HCC patients with paraneoplastic
syndromes (n 5 232)
HCC patients without paraneoplastic
syndromes (n 5 965)
Age (yrs)
Gender (male:female)
HBV:HCV related
Mean Child–Pugh score
Mean initial a-fetoprotein (ng/mL)
Median (range)
Mean peak a-fetoprotein (ng/mL)
Median (range)
Initial MPV tumor thrombosis (1:2)
Initial metastasis (1:2)
Tumor volume (%)
Bilobal tumor involvement (1:2)
Therapy for HCC (1:2)
Tumor cell arrangement (trabecular:mixed:acinar)
Tumor cell differentiation (Grade 1:2:3:4)
Median survival (days)
61 6 14
211:21
154:21
6.8 6 2.1
122,084 6 280,188
2895 (3–1,621,700)
171,803 6 352,790
8701 (3–2,055,300)
60:172
61:171
47.0 6 25.1
120:112
100:132
36:11:3
12:33:7:2
152
63 6 11
833:132
609:166
6.8 6 2.2
23,719 6 106,116
196 (3–1,892,500)
35,695 6 167,960
459 (3–2,975,570)
125:840
112:853
20.1 6 16.2
353:612
523:442
131:42:17
30:121:46:7
634
P value
0.042
0.074
0.006
0.894
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
0.003
0.792
0.331
,0.001
HCC: hepatocellular carcinoma; HBV: hepatitis B virus; HCV: hepatitis C virus; MPV: main portal vein; 1:2: positive:negative. Data are expressed as the mean 6 standard deviation.
tients (1.9%) were positive for HBsAg and antibody to
hepatitis D virus, 170 patients (14.2%) were negative
for HBsAg and anti-HCV, and 121 of these 170 patients
(71%) had serum anti-HBc.
A total of 232 of 1197 patients (19.4%) had paraneoplastic syndromes during the clinical course of
HCC, of whom 177 had a single paraneoplastic manifestation, and 55 had multiple paraneoplastic manifestations. The prevalence of hypercholesterolemia
was 12.1%, hypoglycemia was 5.3%, hypercalcemia
was 4.1%, and erythrocytosis was 3.1%.
When comparing the clinical and laboratory data
and the tumor features between HCC patients with
and without paraneoplastic syndromes, HCC patients
with paraneoplastic syndromes were significantly
younger in age. They had higher rates of HBV infection
than HCV infection, greater initial and peak serum
AFP levels, higher rates of initial MPV thrombosis,
higher rates of metastases and bilobar tumor involvement, and larger tumor volumes. They were less likely
to receive or be suitable for HCC therapy, and they
had shorter survivals than those without paraneoplastic syndromes (Table 1). There were no significant
differences in gender distribution; mean Child–Pugh
score (Table 1); serum levels of ALT, AST, and total
bilirubin; or rate of cirrhosis between patients with
and without paraneoplastic syndromes (data not
shown). HCC patients with these syndromes tended to
have greater tumor volumes. The mean percentage of
tumor volume was 47% 6 25% with a range of 12–95%.
One hundred and fifty-four of 763 patients (20.1%)
with HBV-related HCC had paraneoplastic syndromes,
including 97 (12.7%) with hypercholesterolemia, 46
(6.0%) with hypoglycemia, 32 (4.2%) with hypercalcemia, and 24 (3.1%) with erythrocytosis. Twenty-one of
187 patients (11.2%) with HCV-related HCC had paraneoplastic syndromes, including 14 (7.5%) with hypercholesterolemia, 3 (1.6%) with hypoglycemia, 3 (1.6%)
with hypercalcemia, and 4 (2.1%) with erythrocytosis.
Patients with HBV-related HCC had a significantly
higher prevalence of hypercholesterolemia, hypoglycemia, and total paraneoplastic syndromes than those
with HCV-related HCC (P 5 0.037, 0.006, and 0.005
respectively).
When comparing the clinical and laboratory data
and the tumor features between patients with HBVand HCV-related HCC with paraneoplastic syndromes, those with HBV-related HCC with paraneoplastic syndromes were significantly younger and had
higher serum AFP levels than those with HCV-related
HCC when the syndromes developed (Table 2). There
were no significant differences in gender distribution,
mean Child–Pugh score, rate of MPV thrombosis, metastases and bilobal tumor involvement, tumor volume, or survival between the two groups (Table 2).
The serum levels of ALT, AST, and total bilirubin and
the rate of cirrhosis were not significantly different
between the two groups (data not shown).
Two hundred fifty-eight of 1197 patients (22%)
had adequate HCC tissue for histologic analysis, which
included 54 patients with and 204 patients without
paraneoplastic syndromes. Tumor cell arrangement
802
CANCER September 1, 1999 / Volume 86 / Number 5
TABLE 2
Comparison of Clinical and Laboratory Data and Tumor Features between Hepatitis B Virus- and Hepatitis C Virus-Related Hepatocellular
Carcinoma Patients with Paraneoplastic Syndromes
Characteristic
HBV-related HCC with
paraneoplastic syndromes (n 5 154)
HCV-related HCC with paraneoplastic
syndromes (n 5 21)
Age (yrs)
Gender (male:female)
Mean Child–Pugh score
Mean a-fetoprotein (ng/mL)
Median (range)
MPV tumor thrombosis (1:2)
Metastasis (1:2)
Tumor volume (%)
Bilobal tumor involvement (1:2)
Therapy for HCC (1:2)
Tumor cell arrangement (trabecular:mixed:acinar)
Tumor cell differentiation (Grade 1:2:3:4)
Median survival (days)
58 6 14
137:17
7.8 6 2.4
182,218 6 350,400
3598 (3–1,621,700)
54:100
39:115
49.3 6 23.7
79:75
40:114
26:9:2
8:25:5:2
153
67 6 9
19:2
7.2 6 2.2
24,146 6 54,989
597 (4–165,330)
4:17
6:15
42.5 6 29.4
9:12
9:12
5:1:0
1:4:1:0
152
P value
,0.001
1.000
0.316
,0.001
0.224
0.958
0.367
0.469
0.175
0.749
0.937
0.480
HBV: hepatitis B virus; HCC: hepatocellular carcinoma; HCV: hepatitis C virus; MPV: main portal vein. Data are expressed as the mean 6 standard deviation.
showed a trabecular pattern in 167 patients, a mixed
trabecular and acinar pattern in 53 patients, an acinar
pattern in 20 patients, a compact pattern in 4 patients,
and a scirrhous pattern in 14 patients. Clear cell variants were noted in 8 patients with paraneoplastic syndrome and in 27 patients without paraneoplastic syndrome. Tumor cell differentiation revealed Grade 1 in
42 patients, Grade 2 in 154 patients, Grade 3 in 53
patients, and Grade 4 in 9 patients. The tumor cell
arrangement, the presence of clear cell variants, and
tumor cell differentiation tended to show no significant difference between patients with and without
paraneoplastic syndromes (Table 1) as well as between patients with HBV- and HCV-related HCC with
paraneoplastic syndromes (Table 2).
Age, gender, HBsAg positive status, anti-HCV positive status, serum AFP level, MPV thrombosis, metastases, bilobar tumor involvement, and tumor volume
all were selected as independent variables in a univariate logistic regression analysis, with the presence of
paraneoplastic syndrome as the dependent variable.
The continuous variables were transformed to categoric variables, with the cut-off points determined by
the receiver operating characteristic curve. In this
analysis, AFP . 50,000 ng/mL, tumor volume . 30%
of total liver volume, bilobar tumor involvement, initial MPV tumor thrombosis, and metastases were correlated significantly with the presence of paraneoplastic syndromes (Table 3). In a step-wise, multivariate
logistic regression analysis, AFP . 50,000 ng/mL (odds
ratio, 2.82; 95%; confidence interval, 1.82– 4.36; P ,
0.001) and tumor volume . 30% (odds ratio, 3.23;
95%; confidence interval, 2.22– 4.68; P , 0.001) were
significant predictive variables associated with the
TABLE 3
Significant Predictive Variables Associated with Paraneoplastic
Syndromes in Patients with Hepatocellular Carcinoma, Used in
Univariate Logistic Analysis
Characteristic
Odds ratio
95% confidence
interval
P value
a-Fetoprotein . 50,000 ng/mLa
Tumor volume .30%a
Bilobal tumor involvement
Initial MPV tumor thrombosis
Initial metastasis
4.9000
4.7533
1.8479
2.3299
2.2254
3.4208–7.0189
3.3883–6.6682
1.3842–2.4670
1.6438–3.3025
1.5999–3.0956
,0.000
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
,0.001
MPV: main portal vein.
a
Significantly predictive variables in multivariate analysis (see text for details).
presence of these paraneoplastic syndromes in HCC
patients.
DISCUSSION
HCC is the most common malignancy in Taiwan. In
this study, the prevalence of HBsAg and anti-HCV
positivity was 63.7% and 15.6%, respectively, in our
HCC patients. However, the prevalence of HBV-related HCC in Taiwan began to decrease after universal
HBV vaccination in neonates and children was implemented in 1984.21 Over the next 10 –20 years, HCVrelated HCC may be as prevalent in Taiwan as in
Western countries.
The prevalence of paraneoplastic syndromes in
this study, including hypercholesterolemia, hypoglycemia, hypercalcemia, and erythrocytosis, was similar
to what was found in our previous reports.9 –12 Different rates of incidence of these syndromes were re-
Paraneoplastic Syndromes in HCC/Luo et al.
ported in various studies and areas, and this variation
in incidence may be due to the use of different definitions and values for paraneoplastic syndromes. The
mechanisms by which these syndromes develop have
been studied previously. Except in cases of hypercholesterolemia, hormone-like substances have been
found in these patients. Hypoglycemia has been related to the overproduction of a substance with insulin-like activity, insulin growth factor II (IGF-II).17,22 It
has been suggested that the cause of hypercalcemia is
related to the overproduction of parathyroid-related
protein (PTHrP), which interacts with PTH receptors.8,23 Elevation of serum erythropoietic activity has
been seen in some HCC patients with erythrocytosis.10,24 The loss of feedback control and an increase in
the active form of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase (the major rate-limiting enzyme in
cholesterol biosynthesis in mammalian cells) were
postulated in HCC-related hypercholesterolemia.25,26
Defective receptors for chylomicron remnants on the
surface of HCC cells, resulting in autonomous cholesterol biosynthesis, also has been reported.27
According to our results, HCC patients with paraneoplastic syndromes had significantly higher serum
AFP levels and greater tumor volumes than those
without these syndromes. We also found that patients
with HBV-related HCC had a significantly greater
prevalence of these syndromes than those with HCVrelated HCC. The greater tumor volume was similar in
patients with both HBV- and HCV-related HCC with
the syndromes, but those with HBV-related HCC with
the syndromes had significantly higher serum AFP
levels than patients with HCV-related HCC with the
syndromes. In a step-wise, multivariate logistic regression analysis, we found that large tumor volume and a
high serum AFP value were independent factors in
predicting the appearance of paraneoplastic syndromes. In addition, previous reports have shown that
HCC patients with paraneoplastic manifestations were
related to the release of various functional hormonelike substances (PTH-rP, IGF-II, and erythropoietin).8,10,17,22–24 The levels of both serum AFP and hormone-like substances have decreased in parallel after
effective therapy for HCC, including surgery and TAE,
but they rose again with tumor recurrence or progression.8,10 According to these findings, we believe that
a large tumor volume is necessary for the manifestation of paraneoplastic syndromes in patients with
HCC.9 –11,17 We also suggest a hypothesis that high
serum AFP levels in patients with HCC with paraneoplastic syndromes indicate enhanced biological
activity of the tumor cells for the production of hormone-like substances, thus inducing paraneoplastic
manifestations.9,17
803
Overexpression of the AFP gene in HCC cells contributes to the elevation in serum AFP levels.28,29 The
correlation between AFP level and grade of tumor cell
differentiation has been reported incoherently. Some
reports showed that the presence of AFP tended to
correlate with poorly differentiated HCC or high grade
HCC,28,30,31 whereas other reports revealed no correlation between AFP level and tumor grade.32,33 Conversely, two reports stated that patients with both
Grade 1 and Grade 4 HCC were associated with lower
serum AFP levels.34,35 The correlation between cellular
differentiation of HCC and the presence of paraneoplastic syndromes has not been studied well to date.
According to the current study and our previous reports,9,10 there was no significant correlation between
differentiation of HCC and paraneoplastic manifestations. However, further studies with more biopsy cases
are needed to confirm this finding.
In this study, it was observed that HCC patients
with paraneoplastic syndromes had shorter survival,
and they were less likely to be candidates for effective
therapy, because they usually had larger tumor burdens and higher rates of MPV thrombosis and metastases. Early diagnosis and effective therapy for patients with less advanced HCC may prevent tumor
growth and progression. However, the question of
whether early and effective therapy can decrease the
rate of paraneoplastic manifestations deserves further
long term, prospective studies.
In conclusion, HCC patients with paraneoplastic
syndromes tended to have higher serum AFP levels
and greater tumor volumes than those without these
syndromes. Moreover, patients with HBV-related HCC
had a significantly higher prevalence of these syndromes than patients with HCV-related HCC.
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