A good offence for liver cancer’s defence
Since 1970, liver cancer cases have tripled for men and doubled for women. Up to 50% of cancers worldwide may be due to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of primary liver cancer, or cancer that begins in the liver.
What’s more, is that over half of liver cancer patients cannot be treated with the current therapies available. This leaves liver cancer able to climb to new heights, possibly accounting for why it is the third most common cause of cancer death worldwide.
Seeing the desperate need for improvements and innovations, the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) entered into a partnership with the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation (TGWHF) to award our biggest research grant yet—a $1.2 million grant to be paid over three years to a team of doctors and researchers.
Dr. Ian McGilvray (University Health Network) and his team continue to work diligently to fight liver cancer by harnessing the power of the body’s immune system. This group of specialists are exploring how to break down liver cancer’s defences and make a tumour vulnerable to chemotherapy and other treatments.
Liver cancer may often be the result of undiagnosed and untreated liver diseases. Since the liver plays such a large part in filtering the body’s blood, it is common that cancer cells from around the body travel through the bloodstream and lodge themselves into the liver. These “secondary cancers” are 30 times more likely than primary cancers like HCC.
Dr. McGilvray’s team has established techniques using nanoparticles to target tumour-associated macrophage (TAM) cells, which are cells that create a protective layer around cancerous cells, thereby making the cancer practically invisible to the body’s immune system.
If the body could break down these TAMs, however, the immune system could then locate and destroy cancer cells with or without the assistance of chemotherapy and other treatments.
“Liver cancer is increasing in frequency dramatically in Canada, and treatments are often unsatisfactory,” says Dr. Morris Sherman, CLF Chairperson and practicing hepatologist.“Thanks to Dr. McGilvray’s team, our partnership with the TG&WHF and our tremendously generous donors, this project is taking a step forward towards clinical trials that can provide more effective treatments against liver cancer.”
The overall survival rate for Canadian liver cancer patients five years after receiving their diagnosis is a dismal 20%.
It is crucial to recognize that while research can provide answers to the missing puzzle pieces that may help understand and solve liver cancer, there is much to be done in prevention efforts.
The current belief is that nearly half of liver cancers today could have been prevented if people reduced their fatty food, alcohol and sugar intake, as well as being tested for liver diseases like hepatitis B and hepatitis C earlier.