Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world.
Liver cancer is often fatal, killing many patients within a year of being diagnosed.
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of this aggressive disease. Unfortunately, this symptom doesn’t usually occur until tumors have grown to an advanced stage.
Liver cancer rates in the U.S. are much lower than in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. But there are still about five cases in every 100,000.
It is welcome news then that a simple blood test can detect early-stage liver cancer and better diagnose the disease.
Liver cancer is usually detected through biopsies, imaging, and something called an AFP test. The AFP test can detect malignant tumors based on the concentration of particular substances called markers in the blood.
Now, a new test has been developed by a team of doctors. This test is much more sensitive then the current testing methods. The new test can tell a doctor whether a tumor is in the early or latter stages. This allows patients a much better chance at survival.
“When you have liver cancer, you do not have symptoms in the early stages… it is often too late for treatment,” said Chitty Chen, a researcher at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology.
The researchers developed a blood test to detect changes in sugars attached to proteins that occur in liver cancer. The results of the study explaining the new test were published in the journal “Hepatology.”
By finding these changes in the sugars attached to proteins, patients can be diagnosed in the early stages of liver cancer. And that means a better chance to treat the disease and live longer.
The researchers said the new blood test could also determine the size of the tumor based on the amount of two particular sugar groups that appeared in the proteins.
They recommend that this test be used along with the AFP test to increase the effectiveness of both tests.
Who is at risk for liver cancer?
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are both strong risk factors for liver cancer. In one survey, researchers found that male government employees over the age of 40 with the hepatitis B virus were 200 times more likely to get liver cancer.
Other risk factors include the consumption of alcohol, cirrhosis of the liver, and a family history of the disease.
If you have any concerns about the health of your liver, talk to your healthcare provider. Early detection of any problems can significantly help in the long term.