The discovery of small non-coding RNAs known as microRNAs has refined our view of the complexity of gene expression regulation. In hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the fifth most frequent cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide, dysregulation of microRNAs has been implicated in all aspects of hepatocarcinogenesis. In addition, alterations of microRNA expression have also been reported in non-cancerous liver diseases including chronic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. MicroRNAs have been proposed as clinically useful diagnostic biomarkers to differentiate HCC from different liver pathologies and healthy controls. Unique patterns of microRNA expression have also been implicated as biomarkers for prognosis as well as to predict and monitor therapeutic responses in HCC. Since dysregulation has been detected in various specimens including primary liver cancer tissues, serum, plasma, and urine, microRNAs represent novel non-invasive markers for HCC screening and predicting therapeutic responses. However, despite a significant number of studies, a consensus on which microRNA panels, sample types, and methodologies for microRNA expression analysis have to be used has not yet been established. This review focuses on potential values, benefits, and limitations of microRNAs as new clinical markers for diagnosis, prognosis, prediction, and therapeutic monitoring in HCC.
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