New way to detect liver cancer earlier

Updated: 2011-12-19 19:48


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SHANGHAI - A simple test using just one milliliter of a patient's blood can tell whether the patient has liver cancer -- even if the tumor is less than two centimeters in diameter, new medical research in Shanghai shows.

Doctors at the Zhongshan Hospital, a major medical institution affiliated with Fudan University, have found that seven microRNAs, or ribonucleic acid molecules, are strongly related to liver problems. This discovery can raise the accuracy of tests for early-stage liver cancer to almost 90 percent.

Each test will cost a patient only about 100 yuan ($15.9), said Dr. Fan Jia, vice president of the hospital and one of the country's leading liver surgeons.

The research results have been published on the website of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

China sees half of the world's new liver cancer cases each year. More than 60 percent of Chinese liver cancer patients are diagnosed too late to be cured, according to the medical paper written by Fan's team.

Fan said that the current check for liver cancer, which is based on the volume of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in blood, was not accurate for some people, including pregnant women and patients with hepatitis, gonadal carcinoma or gastrointestinal cancer, as their AFP levels are also possibly high.

Fan's team examined blood samples from 934 people, including healthy people and those with hepatitis B, cirrhosis or liver cancer between 2008 and 2010. The team found that seven of the more than 130 microRNAs in their blood were closely linked to liver problems, and could, therefore, be used to test the health of a person's liver.

The team is applying for patents for the test in China, the United States, Japan and the European Union, and is still in the process of developing a microchip containing the seven microRNAs before the test will be adopted on a large scale.