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.
- 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)
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Source: American Cancer Society 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.