DNA changes in blood may provide early indication of liver cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers have made a discovery that could lead to a method of early detection for liver cancer.

The majority of liver cancers are currently only diagnosed at an advanced stage when they are difficult to treat, making it imperative that new screening methods for early detection are developed. Scientists at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health studied blood samples taken from 12,000 men and over 11,900 women who were enrolled in a cancer screening programme in Taiwan and who have been followed-up since 1991.

They found that certain changes in the DNA found in blood samples were associated with people who then went on to get liver cancer.

The abnormal DNA in the blood, which the researchers believe is released from cancer cells in the liver, was detectable up to nine years before the person was actually diagnosed with liver cancer.

Principal investigator Dr Regina Santella, who is professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, said that the results were extremely encouraging.

"We are not only very excited about what this means in terms of early detection for hepatocellular [liver] cancer but optimistic about how it could also be applied to other cancers."

The findings are published in the April 15th 2007 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.