Types of Cancer | Liver Cancer Facts | NFCR Research for a Cure

Liver Cancer

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in men and the ninth most common cancer in women worldwide. The incidence rate of liver cancer is larger in developing countries, but is, unfortunately, rapidly growing in the U.S.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 42,230 new cases of liver cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021, with 30,230 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
  • For the 44% of people who are diagnosed with liver cancer at localized-stage, the five-year survival rate is 34%.
  • For those people diagnosed with liver cancer at regional stages, the five-year survival rate drops to 12%.
  • In the U.S., liver cancer incidence has more than tripled since 1980.
  • Liver cancer is approximately three times as likely to occur in men than in women.
  • The liver is a common place where cancer spreads. Colorectal, breast, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, kidney, lung and melanoma skin cancers are the most common sources of cancer
  • Approximately 70% of liver cancer cases in the US could potentially be prevented through elimination of risk factors, the most important include: excess body weight; type 2 diabetes; infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or hepatitis C (HCV), heavy alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and GLOBOCAN, 2020

Signs and Symptoms

A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling very full after a small meal
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • An enlarged liver, felt as fullness under the ribs on the right side
  • An enlarged spleen, felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side
  • Pain in the abdomen (belly) or near the right shoulder blade
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen (belly)
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Source: American Cancer Society 2021
Emerald Green Liver Cancer Ribbon
new cases expected in 2021
deaths expected in 2021
% survival rate if diagnosed early

Liver Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack liver cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

NFCR Fellow Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng
Yung-Chi Cheng, Ph.D.

With NFCR funding since 1991, Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng and his team developed YIV-906, a botanical drug with multiple anti-cancer properties that enhance immunotherapy and chemotherapy. YIV-906 also reduces the harsh gastrointestinal side effects from many therapies.

With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, Dr. Cheng brought YIV-906 to a global Phase II clinical trial in 2020. YIV-906 is treating Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)-associated liver cancer patients in combination with sorafenib, a front-line drug that has modest response rates and serious toxicities. If YIV-906 improves patients’ outcomes, it could become one of the first FDA-approved oral herbal medicines for anti-cancer treatment. Its acceptance as an approved drug would facilitate future clinical trials to benefit patients with other types of cancer. Significantly, since YIV-906 affects multiple biological systems, it will usher in a new model for drug discovery to treat patients holistically.

Dr. Ron DePinho
Ronald A. DePinho, M.D.

In over 50% of cancers, STAT3 is a major signaling protein for tumor formation and spread, and suppression of our immune system. Development of drugs that target STAT3 has been a challenge for the research community, earning STAT3 the label of ‘undruggable’.

Dr. Ron DePinho and his colleagues used computer-based drug screening of hundreds of thousands of compounds to identify several compounds that inhibit STAT3 protein in complex tumor models of various cancers. With funds from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, the scientists have brought the lead inhibitor agent to a Phase I clinical trial to treat liver and other advanced cancers, giving patients hope that their lives may be saved.

Paul Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D.
Paul Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D.
Dr. Web Cavenee
Web Cavenee, Ph.D.

Dr. Paul Fisher discovered MDA-9/ Syntenin, a gene that promotes the deadly spread (metastasis) of many cancers. With Dr. Web Cavenee, they discovered an innovative drug called PDZ1i blocks the gene’s early signals that lead to cancer spreading. PDZ1i also enhances the effects of radiation and the frontline liver cancer drug, sorafenib, and has promise to significantly improve survival of liver cancer patients.

Cytokine IL/24, an immune modulator gene also discovered by Dr. Fisher, causes primary and metastatic tumor cells throughout the body to commit cell suicide but is non-toxic to healthy cells. IL/24 also activates our immune system, inhibits new blood vessel formation to starve tumors of blood and nutrients, and sensitizes tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Dr. Fisher is developing different approaches for IL/24 gene therapy for liver and other types of cancer. One therapy is a theranostic approach (detection of cancer combined with treatment and monitoring of response) and an adoptive cell therapy that supercharges patient’s immune T cells with IL/24 gene.

With funding from NFCR, Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee are advancing IL/24 gene therapy to a future phase I clinical trial first for the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. They hope to advance the IL/24 treatment for liver and other cancers so many patients can benefit from this powerful gene therapy.

Related Content

Liver Cancer: Where We Are Now

Liver Cancer: A Primer

With October being recognized as Liver Cancer Awareness Month, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) presents to you a quick overview of the disease—and too insight into the importance of early detection and recent advances to that end. According to a July 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from liver cancer soared 43% in the years spanning 2000 to 2016. With the exceptions of ethnic Asians and Pacific Islanders, increased mortality rose for all groups across racial and gender lines. This spike actually pushed the disease to the sixth leading cause of cancer death in 2016, whereas it had been ninth at the turn of the millennium. “And unfortunately, the symptoms are nothing—patients usually have none at all to start,” says Dr. Talal Adhami, a member of the American Liver Foundation’s National Medical Advisory Committee, highlighting why this particular cancer is so notoriously hard to recognize. “That’s why they have to go on a surveillance protocol with an ultrasound every six months.” By the time symptoms do present themselves—often in the forms of abdominal pain, fatigue, jaundice, liver failure and/or swelling around the belly—it is a dire sign that the cancer has progressed into its advanced stages. But it is also not unusual for even advanced liver cancer to present no symptoms. Adhami admits that when liver cancer is finally diagnosed, most often the prospects for a cure are already dim. But that is not to say science is completely in the dark. While liver cancer itself can fly under the radar, only very rarely does it spontaneously occur. Adhami stresses that any sort of liver scarring, no matter the cause, increases risk. Smoking and obesity are two conditions also known to contribute to liver cancer, and even poisoning via some molds and mushrooms. However, liver cancer most often precipitates out of standing liver conditions whose symptoms are far more easily recognized. In the case of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, people with chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections, are considered most at risk. Both present symptoms that are difficult to go unnoticed, such as dark urine, vomiting, itchy skin, abdominal swelling and swelling of the legs. Alcoholism is also, perhaps famously so, a cause of cirrhosis. Alcoholic hepatitis presents symptoms including jaundice and also vomiting. It is due to the high-risk factors of these diseases that patients are put under surveillance. Unfortunately, each of these conditions themselves are very gradual in their development. Indeed, Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the author of the CDC report, suggests the present rise in liver cancer deaths may stem all the way back to before 1992, the year it became mandatory for blood transfusions and organ transplants to be screened for hepatitis C, whose progress is extremely slow. The CDC lists both procedures as a one-time most common means of hepatitis C transmissions. Adhami adds that hepatitis B infection, also slow-acting, now most often occurs during pregnancy from mother to child. “But if you bring hepatitis B under control,” he goes on to say, “you […]