Monday, April 30, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
Liver cancer is on the rise, with the number of cases tripling in the U.S. since the 1980s. Around 31,000 Americans develop the disease in every year, and 24,000 people die from it. Unfortunately, patients with hepatocellular carcinoma generally have a poor overall prognosis because it’s typically diagnosed in the later stages when the liver has already incurred serious damage. With only one out of every five people diagnosed with the disease surviving longer than five years, better methods of detection and treatment are desperately needed.
Researchers in Switzerland, where liver cancer cases have nearly doubled in the last two decades, have made a groundbreaking new discovery in the form of a new anti-cancer protein.
The group of researchers from the University of Basel, under the guidance of Professor Michael N. Hall, found a previously unknown tumor suppressor, a protein called LHPP. Their research shows that the loss of this protein promotes the growth of tumors and lessens cancer patients’ survival odds. Therefore, it has the potential to serve as a prognostic biomarker.
In their study, the researchers created a mouse model and analyzed more than 4,000 proteins, which they compared in tumor tissue and healthy tissue. The enzyme histidine phosphatase LHPP immediately stood out because it was present in healthy tissue yet nonexistent in tumor tissue. Reintroducing the genetic information of LHPP prevents tumors from forming and maintains liver function.
These mechanisms carried over into humans., where they also noted significant decreases in the levels of LHPP in the tumors of liver cancer patients. They also discovered that life expectancy and disease severity correlated with levels of LHPP. When the tumor suppressor is completely absent, the patients die two years earlier, on average.
These findings could benefit people beyond those with liver cancer as the researchers believe LHPP could also play a role in the development of other types of cancer.
One of the paper’s authors, Professor Tony Hunter of the Salk Institute, said: “It’s exciting because it offers the possibility of new therapeutics or new diagnostics for a cancer that’s basically untreatable–liver cancer–and potentially others, as well.”
Their findings were published in the journal Nature.
One factor that could be playing a role in the dramatic rise in liver cancer deaths is pesticide use. A meta-analysis that included more than 480,000 participants from several countries found that pesticide exposure was connected to a 71 percent higher risk of liver cancer. Additional studies are needed to find out precisely which pesticides are causing the most harm and which amounts are problematic.
While the researchers’ findings are very promising, it’s still important to do everything you can to stack the odds of not getting liver cancer in your favor. You can avoid pesticides by turning to organic, locally grown produce. Alcohol abuse is another potential cause, so it’s important to watch your intake carefully. Hepatitis C infections, which are spread through contact with infected blood, can also cause liver cancer.
With so many toxins in our environment, it’s not surprising to see cancer cases rising. Scientists are learning more about cancer all the time, and you can stay on top of the latest news and developments by following Cancer.news.
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