What it is:
Cancer that starts in the liver is called ‘primary liver cancer’ or ‘hepatocellular carcinoma’ (HCC). Primary liver cancer may begin as a single tumour that grows and spreads to other parts of the liver or it may begin in more than one site and grow into multiple tumours.
What we know:
Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Canada and is one of the few forms of cancer that is increasing in prevalence. Primary liver cancer can develop as a result of hepatitis B or C infection, fatty liver disease and cirrhosis caused by alcohol use or obesity, use of anabolic steroids or from inherited liver diseases such as hemochromatosis. Many forms of liver cancer can be prevented by treating the diseases that cause it. In many cases, liver cancer can also be successfully treated if it is identified early enough.
What the CLF is doing:
- Liver cancer treatment is complex because it hinges upon the specific characteristics of the cancer in a given patient. One determining factor in patient survival is whether or not the cancer spreads into the small blood vessels near the tumour. Currently it is difficult to determine the existence or scale of this spread prior to treatment. Thanks to a CLF research grant, Dr. Kartik Jhaveri (University Health Network, Ontario) and his colleagues are studying the capability of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to predict this tumour spread before treatment.
- To make it easier to test potential liver cancer treatments, Dr. Marc Bilodeau (University of Montreal, Quebec) and his team are using tissue from liver cancer patients to grow copies of their tumours in the lab. Once they have a good model of the tumour, they can test different treatment options to determine which would be the best choice for the patient.
- While alcohol and nicotine are recognized cancer-causing agents, how they lead to cancer in the liver is still not clear. Charmaine Ferguson is studying whether alcohol and nicotine increase the levels of specific proteins that promote the growth of tumours.
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