Ghent, Belgium − Cancer of the liver is very difficult to detect, and it is a major cause of death in Asia and Africa, with rising incidence in Western countries as well. Now, VIB researchers connected to Ghent University, in collaboration with research centers in Beijing and Shanghai in China, have developed a test to detect liver cancer in an early stage. A small blood sample is the only requirement for the test. The new test enables accurate detection of liver cancer in over 50% of the cases for which previous diagnostic tests have not been able to provide a definitive answer.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most prevalent primary liver cancer. The disease most often appears following a chronic inflammation of the liver as a consequence of a hepatitis B or C virus infection or cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver comprises a group of liver diseases in which the normal liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue. This reduces the amount of healthy liver tissue, and the accumulation of scar tissue disrupts the development and functioning of this complex organ. Cirrhosis of the liver has various causes, including: excessive use of alcohol, chronic viral hepatitis B, C and D infections, diseases of the bile ducts, and parasitic infections.
Half a million patients die every year in China because of cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer. 60% to 80% of the patients with liver cancer have a previous history of cirrhosis of the liver. In Belgium as well, 350 new cases of liver cancer occur each year. Transplantation often offers the only possible remedy. Detection methods that would detect HCC in an early stage would save many lives.
Current detection methods
Methods of detecting malignant growths are often based on the concentration of particular substances called 'markers' present in the blood. For the detection of HCC, only one marker (AFP) is generally used.
Contact: Ann Van Gysel
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology