Liver Cancer Diagnosis, Why?

Comprehensive Cancer Centers constantly monitors research studies and reports about cancer as well as its causes and potential treatments. Studies and research reports are part of a mosaic that helps our providers make informed decisions, ask new questions and look for new ways to help our patients.

A recent study that caught the team’s attention was one regarding liver cancer. The report is being highlighted and shared, not only due to its interesting findings, but also with October being National Liver Cancer Awareness Month. Every cancer type is important to Comprehensive and part of our research involves looking at new data that applies to all of them.

In this liver cancer research report, researchers at the University of Helsinki demonstrated the first time that normal human fibroblast cells can be converted to specific cancer cells using only factors that are commonly detected in actual human patients. Previous studies achieved this only through powerful viral factors that are not common in human cancers.

The importance of this potential breakthrough from the report:

The research showed that a combination of oncogenes that is characteristic of liver cancer (CTNNB1, TERT, MYC) induces senescence in human fibroblasts and primary hepatocytes. However, reprogramming fibroblasts to a liver progenitor fate, induced hepatocytes (iHeps), makes them sensitive to transformation by the same oncogenes. The transformed iHeps are highly proliferative, tumorigenic in nude mice, and bear gene expression signatures of liver cancer. These results show that tumorigenesis is triggered by a combination of three elements: the set of driver mutations, the cellular lineage, and the state of differentiation of the cells along the lineage. Results provide direct support for the role of cell identity as a key determinant in transformation and establish a paradigm for studying the dynamic role of oncogenic drivers in human tumorigenesis.

This  new data is of interest, as the findings could lead to new and more precise methods of diagnosing liver cancer. As cancer is the most complex genetic disease known, with mutations found in more than 250 genes, every new tool available that helps better target diseases leads to improvements in early detection and treatment outcomes.  While the report focuses on liver cancer, given that cancer can arise from various different human tissues, the learnings could potentially be applied to more accurately diagnosing other cancers as well.

The possibility for new liver cancer diagnostic options is encouraging. This is the case since many people suffering from liver disease do not look or feel sick, but damage is still happening. New ways to find and treat the disease can be of great assistance to getting earlier treatment started, as over time scar tissue builds within the liver and can lead to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can impact the liver’s ability to function and lead to serious complications. In the past decade, the incidence of cirrhosis has doubled in the United States. Deaths due to cirrhosis are expected to triple by 2030.

A significant proportion of those diagnosed with liver cancer have cirrhosis. The last 40 years have seen great strides in survival rates for many types of cancer thanks to improved surveillance, early detection, and expanded treatment options; however, since 1980 liver cancer incident rates have more than tripled and death rates have more than doubled. This year, in 2020, the American Cancer Society estimates nearly 43,000 people will be diagnosed with liver cancer and just over 30,000 people will die because of these cancers.

Challenges with liver health are also greater than just what’s happening to that organ, as the liver is an incredibly important resource for the body. At any time, the liver is holding 13% of the body’s blood supply, filtering and cleaning that blood, which is only one of 500 vital functions performed by the organ. The liver can also repair itself, or regenerate, even if scar tissue has formed. If someone’s liver disease can be treated, well-managed, or cured early in the progression of liver disease, their liver will often recover from damage.

National Liver Cancer Awareness Month

During October’s Liver Cancer Awareness month, we encourage everyone to become better informed about this vital organ. This includes learning about common causes for liver disease, which include natural causes like viruses, genetics and autoimmune disease.  Liver disease is also caused by preventable reasons such as excessive alcohol use, poor diet and/or obesity, and reactions to medications, street drugs, or toxic chemicals.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers Can Help

Physicians at Comprehensive Cancer Centers provide a variety of treatment options for patients with liver cancer including access to clinical research.  To schedule an appointment with the team at Comprehensive, please call 702-952-3350.


The content is this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.