According to the results of a study conducted in China, testing for specific changes to proteins in the blood may help to identify liver cancer in patients with hepatitis B-related cirrhosis of the liver. These results were published in the journal Hepatology.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for over 500 functions. These include the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins, and fats; the production of bile; the processing of hemoglobin; and the detoxification of numerous substances.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer. Risk of HCC is greatly increased among patients with hepatitis B- or hepatitis C-related cirrhosis of the liver.
To improve the early detection of HCC in patients at high risk of the disease, researchers in China conducted a study among 450 patients with hepatitis B-related cirrhosis or fibrosis of the liver. The study evaluated whether assessment of glycans (polysaccharides) attached to proteins in the blood could distinguish patients with and without HCC.
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The researchers found one glycan that was significantly more abundant in patients with HCC than in patients without HCC, and one glycan that was significantly less abundant in patients with HCC than in patients without HCC. The combination of these measures was as accurate in identifying HCC as the commonly used alfa-fetoprotein test. Furthermore, the combined measure provided information about HCC stage.
The researchers conclude that this test may provide a supplemental, noninvasive method of detecting HCC in patients with hepatitis B-related cirrhosis of the liver. Further studies, however, are needed.
Reference: Liu X-E, Desmyter L, Gao C-F et al. N-glycomic changes in hepatocellular carcinoma patients with liver cirrhosis induced by hepatitis B virus. Hepatology [early online publication]. August 7, 2007.