Blood test predicts liver cancer risk

2020

Challenge

Hepatitis B and C, obesity, fatty liver-related chronic liver disease, and a form of liver scarring called cirrhosis are all risk factors for developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer. Guidelines recommend regular screenings for people living with these risk factors. However, this strategy is widely ineffective, and the incidence and mortality for HCC continues to rise.

Advance

A team led by Xin Wei Wang, Ph.D., developed a novel screening method to help identify people who are most at risk of developing HCC based on their past exposure to certain viruses. This method analyzes blood samples to detect antibodies developed in response to past viral infections. The presence or absence of certain antibodies in the blood samples — known as a viral signature — was highly predictive of HCC even ten years before patients were diagnosed with the disease.

Impact

Together with existing screening tools, the new test could play an important role in screening people who are at risk for developing HCC. Improved screening could increase the chances of detecting the disease in its early stages and successfully treating it, goals that have proven difficult to accomplish for this type of liver cancer.

Publications

Liu J, Tang W, Budhu A, Forgues M, Hernandez MO, Candia J, Kim Y, Bowman ED, Ambs S, Zhao Y, Tran B, Wu X, Koh C, Surana P, Liang TJ, Guarnera M, Mann D, Rajaure M, Greten TF, Wang Z, Yu H, Wang XW. (2020). A viral exposure signature defines early onset of hepatocellular carcinoma. Cell. Jul 23;182(2):317-328. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.05.038.