A group of scientists say that they have developed a test to detect liver cancer at an early stage from a small blood sample. The new test enables accurate detection of liver cancer in over 50% of the cases for which previous diagnostic tests have not been able to provide a definitive answer, according to VIB investigators connected to Ghent University who worked with research centers in Beijing and Shanghai.
By examining blood concentrations in Chinese patients with cirrhosis of the liver due to a hepatitis B virus infection, the investigators found that the quantities of two particular sugar groups that appear in the blood proteins varied according to the stage of the disease. Furthermore, these values correlated with the size of the tumor. The ratio of these values forms the basis of the new blood test.
The researchers report that they were able to make the correct diagnosis in 70% of the cases. This success rate equals that of the AFP tumor marker currently being used in the clinic. The AFP marker is reportedly the only one for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The scientists say that AFP has low specificity and is frequently inadequate because of false-positive results.
When the AFP test is used in combination with the new test, the accuracy of HCC diagnosis rises dramatically, the research team adds. The new test succeeds in detecting liver cancer in more than half of the patients with cirrhosis of the liver for which the AFP test provides no answer.
At the moment, the researchers are working on implementing this test for the diagnosis of liver disease in compliance with clinical practice.