Researchers at the United States (US) National Cancer Institute (NCI) said an experimental blood test may improve screening for the most common form of liver cancer.
According to the findings of a new study published in the journal ‘Cell,’ the test checks people for previous exposure to certain viruses that may interact with the immune system and increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Hepatocellular carcinoma most commonly occurs in people with liver disease, particularly in people with chronic hepatitis B and C.
Symptoms often don’t appear in the early stages of the cancer.
Study leader, Xin Wei Wan, said: “Together with existing screening tests, the new test could play an important role in screening people who were at risk for developing HCC. It could help doctors find and treat HCC early.”
Wang is the co-leader of the Center for Cancer Research liver cancer programme at the NCI.
“The method is relatively simple and inexpensive, and it only requires a small blood sample,” he said.
Many screening tests detect features of cancer cells, but those features can change over time, and not all cancer cells in a tumour have the same characteristics, the authors noted.
Rather than focus on cells, the new test detects features of the cancer’s environment — signs left behind by past viruses.
Infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus, or cirrhosis of the liver were among the factors that increase the risk of HCC. It’s recommended that people with risk factors get screened for HCC every six months, undergoing an ultrasound with or without a blood test for alpha-fetoprotein.
The ‘Newsmax’ reported that if HCC was detected early, there’s a much better chance that it can be cured. But most patients are diagnosed when the cancer was advanced and often incurable.
Wang said:”We need a better way to identify people who have the highest risk for HCC and who should get screened more frequently.”
Improving early detection and monitoring of HCC were particularly important because HCC rates were rising in the US.
The researchers are continuing to study their blood test and plan to assess it in clinical trials.