A blood test for liver cancer
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Early intervention offers a greatly improved prognosis for patients of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer. Diagnosing and monitoring the condition, however, requires CT or ultrasound imaging, or an invasive tissue biopsy. Now, thanks to a biomarker identified by a China-US collaboration, a simple blood test could soon provide clinicians with a quick assessment of a cancer patient’s status and prognosis.
Kang Zhang, of Sichuan University, China, led a team of US and Chinese researchers to assess whether fragments of tumour-originating DNA that circulate in a cancer patient’s blood, known as ctDNA, could act as a biomarker for hepatocellular carcinoma. ctDNA can be readily assayed for modifications to DNA known as methylation, a mechanism by which tumor suppressor genes are silenced in early cancer development.
Comparing samples from 1,098 hepatocellular carcinoma patients and 835 healthy individuals, the team found that ctDNA methylation patterns are predictive of cancer presence, progression, and prognosis. Methylation testing can be performed via a non-invasive blood test and fulfils a clinical need for an effective ‘liquid biopsy’ HCC screening method.
- Nature Materials 16, 1155–1161 (2017). doi: 10.1038/nmat4997