• Also Known As:
  • DCP
  • PIVKA II (protein induced by vitamin K absence or antagonists II)
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At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To evaluate effectiveness of treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer, if the level of des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin is elevated prior to treatment; to monitor for recurrence of HCC

When To Get Tested?

Periodically when you have been treated for HCC

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?


You may be able to find your test results on your laboratory’s website or patient portal. However, you are currently at Testing.com. You may have been directed here by your lab’s website in order to provide you with background information about the test(s) you had performed. You will need to return to your lab’s website or portal, or contact your healthcare practitioner in order to obtain your test results.

Testing.com is an award-winning patient education website offering information on laboratory tests. The content on the site, which has been reviewed by laboratory scientists and other medical professionals, provides general explanations of what results might mean for each test listed on the site, such as what a high or low value might suggest to your healthcare practitioner about your health or medical condition.

The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results.

If you do not have your lab report, consult your healthcare provider or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range.

Laboratory test results are not meaningful by themselves. Their meaning comes from comparison to reference ranges. Reference ranges are the values expected for a healthy person. They are sometimes called “normal” values. By comparing your test results with reference values, you and your healthcare provider can see if any of your test results fall outside the range of expected values. Values that are outside expected ranges can provide clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

While accuracy of laboratory testing has significantly evolved over the past few decades, some lab-to-lab variability can occur due to differences in testing equipment, chemical reagents, and techniques. This is a reason why so few reference ranges are provided on this site. It is important to know that you must use the range supplied by the laboratory that performed your test to evaluate whether your results are “within normal limits.”

For more information, please read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin (DCP) is an abnormal form of prothrombin, a clotting factor produced by the liver. This test measures the amount of DCP in the blood to help evaluate whether treatment for one type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is effective.

DCP can be produced by liver tumors, and levels are frequently elevated in conjunction with related tumor markers such as alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and AFP-L3% when a person has HCC or has an increased risk of HCC recurrence. This makes the test potentially useful as a tumor marker.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer, accounting for 3 of 4 cancers that originate in the liver. ACS estimates that over 40,000 new liver cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. each year and about 29,000 people will die of the disease. The incidence in the U.S. has more than tripled since 1980. Liver cancer is much more common in other parts of the world, with more than 700,000 people diagnosed each year.

Most cases of HCC develop in people who have chronic liver diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. In the U.S., the most common risk factor for HCC is a chronic hepatitis C infection; worldwide it is chronic hepatitis B. When it occurs, HCC may emerge several decades after the initial infection. HCC affects more men than women, with the average age of diagnosis at 62 years. Symptoms of HCC, such as a liver mass, abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, ascites, jaundice, and a worsening of symptoms in those with chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, are often not present until the later stages of the disease. For this reason, HCC is rarely detected early unless screening is done in those who are at high risk.

It was hoped that DCP testing would prove useful as a screening and surveillance tool to help with early HCC detection in those with chronic liver disease, but studies have shown mixed results and a recent guideline by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) recommends that it not be used for this purpose.


Common Questions

How is it used?

A des-gamma-carboxy prothrombin (DCP) test may be used along with other tumor markers such as an alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and/or an AFP-L3% to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer. It may also be used to monitor for recurrence of HCC after successful treatment.

Not every HCC will produce DCP. If DCP is initially elevated in person who has been diagnosed with HCC, then it can be used as a monitoring tool. The DCP test is not considered a replacement for the AFP or AFP-L3% tests, but gives the healthcare practitioner additional information. These tests generally reflect tumor burden – the amount of cancer present.

In Japan, DCP is being used, along with AFP and/or AFP-L3% to periodically screen those considered to be at high risk of progressing from chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis to HCC. Guidelines in the U.S. and Europe, however, have not endorsed the use of AFP or DCP as screening tools. However, some healthcare practitioners may this test to aid in the risk assessment of patients with chronic liver disease for progression to HCC in conjunction with other laboratory findings and imaging studies.

DCP is not sensitive or specific enough to be used to screen the general population for risk of developing HCC cancer.

When is it ordered?

The DCP test is not routinely ordered. However, it may initially be ordered when an individual is diagnosed with HCC. If the initial level is elevated, it may then be ordered periodically during and after treatment of HCC to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment and ordered periodically along with an AFP and/or AFP-L3% to monitor for cancer recurrence.

What does the test result mean?

When the DCP level is increased in a person diagnosed with HCC, it means that the cancer is producing this substance and the test can be used as a tumor marker. Since the test is typically ordered periodically, changes over time can be evaluated. Decreasing concentrations in someone who is being treated for HCC suggest response to treatment. Levels that stay the same or increase after treatment indicate that the treatment has not been effective. Increasing levels after treatment has been completed suggest recurrence of HCC.

A person can have HCC without having elevated DCP. The tumor may not produce DCP or it may be small enough that it is not producing significant amounts.

Is there anything else I should know?

Increases in DCP and/or AFP are not diagnostic of HCC. For a diagnosis, the tumor may be located through the use of imaging scans. Sometimes a biopsy may be performed and cells from it examined under a microscope to aid in establishing a diagnosis.

DCP can also be elevated because of acute hepatitis. In persons with chronic hepatitis, mild increases in DCP are common, although not as commonly as with AFP, and generally not to as high levels.

If someone is taking the anticoagulant warfarin to lower the risk of blood clots, DCP will be markedly increased, since this drug works by blocking the action of vitamin K and leads to production of the same abnormal form of prothrombin as occurs in HCC. DCP can also be increased with vitamin K deficiency.

A person with a persistent vitamin K deficiency or jaundice due to a liver obstruction may have elevated DCP levels that are not due to HCC. Some broad-spectrum antibiotics can affect DCP test results.

How long will it take for results?

This depends on the laboratory performing the test. The test requires specialized equipment and is not offered by every laboratory. The blood sample will usually be sent to a reference laboratory and it make take a few days before results are available.

If I have liver cancer in my family, should I be tested for DCP?

DCP is not intended to be used to screen the general population or those who are healthy. A DCP test may be occasionally performed if you have chronic liver disease and your healthcare practitioner wants the additional information it may offer.

If I have hepatitis, should I have a DCP test performed?

You should talk to your health care practitioner. Guidelines by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) do not recommend using DCP as a screening test for the development of HCC, but it is used for this purpose in some other parts of the world.

View Sources

Sources Used in Current Review

2017 review performed by Siaw Li Chan, PhD.

(March 20, 2017) U.S. Food and Drug Administration product classification. Available online at https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfPCD/classification.cfm?ID=2940. Accessed on 04/26/17.

(Nov 16, 2016). Schwartz, J and Carithers, R. Clinical features and diagnosis of primary hepatocellular carcinoma. UpToDate. Available online at http://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-features-and-diagnosis-of-primary-hepatocellular-carcinoma?source=search_result&search=Des-gamma-carboxy+prothrombin&selectedTitle=1~11. Accessed on 4/26/17.

Bertino G, Ardiri AM, Calvagno GS, Bertino N, Boemi PM. 2010. Prognostic and diagnostic value of des-γ-carboxy prothrombin in liver cancer. Drug News Perspect. Oct;23(8):498-508.

Burtis CA, Ashwood ER, Bruns DE. (2011). Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Diagnostics (5th ed.). St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders.

(March 31, 2016) American Cancer Society. Liver Cancer. Available online at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/about/what-is-key-statistics.html. Accessed May 2017.

Heimbach, J., Kulik, L. M., Finn, R., Sirlin, C. B., Abecassis, M., Roberts, L. R., Zhu, A., Murad, M. H. and Marrero, J. (2017). Aasld guidelines for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatology. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/hep.29086. Available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hep.29086/full. Accessed May 2017.

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Sources Used in Previous Reviews

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Axelrod, D. and Leeuwen, D. (2008 September 18). Hepatocellular Carcinoma. eMedicine [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/197319-overview. Accessed September 2009.

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Lopez, J. (2005 August). Recent Developments in the First Detection of Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005 August; 26(3): 65–79 [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=16450014. Accessed September 2009.

Stitham, S. et. al. (Updated 2008 September 4). Hepatocellular Carcinoma. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000280.htm. Accessed September 2009.

Yamamoto, K. et. al. (2009 August 11). Significance of Alpha-Fetoprotein and Des-gamma-Carboxy Prothrombin in Patients with Hepatocellular Carcinoma Undergoing Hepatectomy. Ann Surg Oncol Abstract [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19669841?dopt=Abstract. Accessed September 2009.

Sherman, M. (2005 June 23). Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Epidemiology, Risk Factors, and Screening. Medscape Today from Seminars in Liver Disease [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/506830. Accessed September 2009.

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