New hope for liver cancer patients

October 25, 2010 8:35:01 AM PDT
According to the Mayo Clinic, liver cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the entire world.

In the United States, however, liver cancer patients usually do not develop cancer in the liver to start. Typically, cancer develops in other parts of the body in U.S. patients and travels to the liver. Doctors usually call this metastatic cancer. Furthermore, this type of cancer is named after the organ where the cancer initially began. For example, if the cancer began in the colon and spreads to the liver, the cancer would be called metastatic colon cancer.

SYMPTOMS: Symptoms of liver cancer do not develop immediately. Yet, when they do, some to watch out for are: loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, an enlarged liver, losing weight without trying, and yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (known as jaundice).

CAUSES: There is not a clear-cut definition for what causes liver cancer. Doctors do know that infection, such as hepatitis, can lead to liver cancer. When liver cells undergo certain mutations, liver cancer is the result.

There are four main types of liver cancer. These include:

  1. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC): This is the most common form of liver cancer found in not only adults but in children as well. HCC begins in the hepatocytes.
  2. Cholangiocarcinoma: This type of liver cancer begins in the small bile ducts inside the liver. This type of cancer is also called bile duct cancer.
  3. Hepatoblastoma: This is a very rare form of liver cancer that typically only affects children 4 years of age and younger. Most importantly, children with this form of liver cancer are almost always treated and healed.
  4. Angiosarcoma: This is also a rare form of liver cancer that starts in the blood vessels of a person's liver and metastasizes very quickly.

NEW HOPE? In 2004, Melanie Thomas, M.D., an oncologist, from the Medical University of South Carolina, saw data that showed a combination of two drugs was helping patients with kidney cancer. Because there are several similarities between liver and kidney cancer, she decided to conduct a 40-patient clinical trial where all the participants received the same treatment. That led to a randomized trial that is now being conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina. The drugs being tested are Avastin and Tarceva. Avastin starves the tumor of its blood supply, while researchers believe Tarceva interferes with the cell's ability for growth, so the tumor stays stable for a longer period of time. The combination doubled the length of survival in patients. Nearly 30 percent of patients had significant tumor shrinkage.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Melissa Carroll
Medical University of South Carolina
Charleston, SC
(843) 792-5329
carrolm@musc.edu


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