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Two Liver Cancer Discoveries May Impact Hepatitis Patients

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. August 15, 2011

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Researchers in different countries make two liver cancer discoveries, progress that could have a positive impact on people with advanced chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.

Millions of Americans are currently living with chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, viral illnesses that can cause significant damage to the liver. Unfortunately, chronic viral hepatitis is the most prominent risk factor for developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a primary liver cancer. Extraordinarily hard to treat, hepatocellular carcinoma is one of the most perilous types of cancer possible. However, two newly released studies that examined liver cancer on molecular levels could lead to improved treatments – a potential relief to many people with advanced Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.

About Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Primary liver cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the liver. It occurs when liver cells develop mutations in their DNA – material that contains genetic instructions for every chemical process in the body. DNA mutations cause changes in these instructions. If this instructional change results in cells growing out of control, they can form a cancerous tumor.

Additional facts about primary liver cancer include:

  • Beginning in the hepatocytes, HCC is the most common form of primary liver cancer.
  • Worldwide, chronic infection with hepatitis causes 80 percent of all primary liver cancers.
  • Worldwide, more than 500,000 people die each year from primary liver cancer.
  • HCC is the third leading cancer-related cause of death and the seventh most common form of cancer worldwide.

HCC is typically diagnosed late in the course of viral hepatitis infection. New, progressive treatments are slowly becoming available for primary liver cancer; however, the five-year survival rate is only about 10 percent.

Two Liver Cancer Studies

Published in different medical journals in July of 2011, two completely separate research teams discovered something new about liver cancer:

  1. Genetic Variant – As published in the July 3, 2011, online edition of Nature Genetics, Japanese researchers analyzed 467,538 single nucleotide polymorphisms in 212 Japanese individuals with chronic Hepatitis C with HCC and 765 individuals with chronic Hepatitis C without HCC. They found that a common genetic variant (within the DEPDC5 locus) increases susceptibility to HCC. According to the study’s authors, this discovery deepens our understanding of the mechanisms triggering HCC and provides a valuable target for new primary liver cancer therapies.
  2. Cancer Stem Cells – As published in the July 8, 2011 edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell, Hong Kong researchers found that mice implanted with liver cancer enriched with CD24 cancer stem cells were resistant to chemotherapy. The researchers described CD24 to be like a switch on some cancer stem cells. Once switched on, they activate a protein called STAT3, which instructs the cell to form tumors, spread and be drug resistant.

In people with liver cancer, the investigators determined that those with high concentrations of CD24 had a 67 percent chance of cancer recurrence in the first year after surgery, compared to 21 percent recurrence in those with a low CD24 count. Thus, research focusing on inhibiting CD24 cancer stem cells and the protein STAT3 could represent a new therapeutic avenue for treating primary liver cancer.

Between interpreting genetic variants and measuring cancer stem cells, molecular biologists are making headway against primary liver cancer. Currently, hepatocellular carcinoma looms as a potentially fatal end to advanced chronic Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection. But the two research studies described above could change this by leading to better therapies that improve the prognosis of primary liver cancer.

References:

http://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/abstract/S1934-5909%2811%2900291-8, CD24+ Liver Tumor-Initiating Cells Drive Self-Renewal and Tumor Initiation through STAT3-Mediated NANOG Regulation, Terence K.W. Lee, et al, Retrieved July 10, 2011, Cell Stem Cell, July 2011.

http://www.hepb.org/professionals/hepb_and_liver_cancer.htm, Hepatitis B and Primary Liver Cancer, Retrieved July 10, 2011, Hepatitis B Foundation, 2011.

http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hep_c/news/2011/0708_2011_b.html, Gene Variation Linked to Liver Cancer in Hepatitis C Patients, Retrieved July 10, 2011, hivandhepatitis.com, 2011.

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/liver-cancer/DS00399/DSECTION=causes, Liver Cancer, Retrieved July 10, 2011, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2011.

http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ng.876.html, Variation in the DEPDC5 locus is associated with progression to hepatocellular carcinoma in chronic hepatitis C virus carriers, Daiki Miki, et al, Retrieved July 10, 2011, Nature Genetics, July 2011.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/07/cancer-liver-stemcells-idUSL3E7I710L20110707, Experts find rogue stem cells in liver cancer, Tan Ee Lyn, Retrieved July 10, 2011, Thomson Reuters, 2011.

http://www.riken.go.jp/engn/r-world/info/release/press/2011/110704_2/index.html, Genetic variant linked to development of liver cancer in hepatitis C virus carriers, Retrieved July 10, 2011, Riken, Japan, 2011.

http://www.uptodate.com/contents/staging-and-prognostic-factors-in-hepatocellular-carcinoma, Staging and prognostic factors in hepatocellular carcinoma, Steven A. Curley, MD, FACS, Retrieved July 10, 2011, UpToDate, Inc., 2011.

http://www.webmd.com/cancer/understanding-liver-cancer-basic-information, Understanding Liver Cancer – The Basics, Retrieved July 10, 2011, WebMD, LLC, 2011.

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