Scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of America have developed a new test that can help identify people who are likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
HCC is the most common form of liver cancer.
New test developed by the scientists uses a simple blood test to check for the patient’s previous exposure to certain viruses.
Their findings are published in Cell.
“Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is an aggressive malignancy with its global incidence and mortality rate continuing to rise, although early detection and surveillance are suboptimal. We performed serological profiling of the viral infection history in 899 individuals from an NCI-UMD case-control study using a synthetic human virome, VirScan. We developed a viral exposure signature and validated the results in a longitudinal cohort with 173 at-risk patients who had long-term follow-up for HCC development,” write the investigators.
“Our viral exposure signature significantly associated with HCC status among at-risk individuals in the validation cohort (area under the curve: 0.91 [95% CI 0.87–0.96] at baseline and 0.98 [95% CI 0.97–1] at diagnosis). The signature identified cancer patients prior to a clinical diagnosis and was superior to alpha-fetoprotein. In summary, we established a viral exposure signature that can predict HCC among at-risk patients prior to a clinical diagnosis, which may be useful in HCC surveillance.”
“Together with existing screening tests, the new test could play an important role in screening people who are at risk for developing HCC. It could help doctors find and treat HCC early. The method is relatively simple and inexpensive, and it only requires a small blood sample,” said the study’s leader, Xin Wei Wang, PhD, co-leader of the NCI Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Liver Cancer Program.
Certain factors increase a person’s chances of developing HCC, such as infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus or cirrhosis of the liver. People who have risk factors are recommended to get screened for HCC every six months with an ultrasound with or without a blood test for alpha-fetoprotein.
But not everyone with risk factors for HCC will develop the disease. Although screening can lead to earlier detection, most patients are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced and often incurable. However, HCC that is caught early has a much better chance of being cured.
“We need a better way to identify people who have the highest risk for HCC and who should get screened more frequently,” said Wang, who is also part of NCI’s Translational Liver Cancer Consortium. Better early detection and surveillance approaches are particularly important because rates of HCC are rising in the United States.
“A main focus of the NCI CCR Liver Cancer Program is to develop new methods for early detection, diagnosis, and treatment, with the goal of improving outcomes for patients with HCC,” explained Tim Greten, MD, co-leader of the Liver Cancer Program and a collaborator of the study.