Study reveals childhood liver cancer risk

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers have announced that they have discovered a possible way to identify children at risk of liver cancer.

Researchers at King's College Hospital and King's College London found that all the children they studied who went on to develop liver cancer shared a common genetic flaw.

The faulty gene is normally responsible for producing a protein known as bile salt export pump (BSEP). The fault meant that the gene was turned off in all the children affected.

BSEP normally pumps bile salts out of the kidneys and into the intestine where they aid digestion, but this process was defective among the affected children, leading to liver disease and possible cancer.

Despite liver cancer being extremely rare, with only around ten cases recorded annually in the UK, the finding is significant as the disease should be preventable once the gene fault is identified.

The finding will also help inform research on liver cancer among adults. The disease is the fifth most common cause of adult cancer and the number of cases is rising.

"This study has produced some very interesting findings," said Dr Bruce Morland, head of the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group, supported by Cancer Research UK.

"Although this is an extremely rare condition the ability to detect liver cancer early in these children or to detect risks in unborn babies could prove to be an important new tool in the fight against this disease."

The research is published in the journal Hepatology.