Liver cancer: THOUSANDS of lives could be saved with new blood test

The test will detect tumour DNA in the blood. Currently, tests can only find a protein linked to liver cancer, which is more common when the tumour is more advanced.

Like with most cancers, early detection improves survival rates.

The new blood test could find liver cancer cells much faster, as tumour DNA circulates in the blood from the moment the tumour begins.

The test detects hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) - the most common type of primary liver cancer in adults.

Researcher working on the study, Scott Lippman, from the University of California, said: “HCC and its precursor, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, have increased markedly during the past decade and disproportionally affect Hispanic males.

“California has one of the highest rates of liver cancer in the US.

“This novel report has major implications locally and globally on this devasyating disease.

“It's also the first report to support the potential of circulating tumour DNA for early detection for any cancer.”

The researchers, including scientists from China’s Sun Yat-Sen University, analysed DNA changes in hundreds of thousands of HCC patients in their study.

The found a single specific DNA marker in those patients, and then researched whether the marker was found in patients without any tumours.

Comparing blood samples of almost 1,100 HCC patients, and 835 ‘non-tumour’ patients, they found the DNA was only present in HCC patients.

They could then create a blood test which searches for that DNA marker in patients at risk of the liver cancer.

Kang Zhang, another scientist working on the study, said: “Our results were very encouraging.

“In a large clinical cohort, our blood-based HCC diagnosis highly correlated with tumour burden, treatment response and stage of cancer.

“Right now, oncologists are quite limited in how they detect HCC and evaluate treatment.

“Our study is a great demonstration of proof-of-concept for a new, more effective approach that applies to solid malignancies, HCC and beyond.”

Liver cancer symptoms include unintentional weight loss, abdomen pain and itchy skin.