Cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer
Approximately one in a thousand people in Europe suffer from cirrhosis of the liver, which means serious and irreversible damage to the liver. It is usually a consequence of diseases such as hepatitis B or C, or chronic alcohol use. Cirrhosis of the liver also leads to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a malignant liver tumor. HCC is the third biggest killer among cancers in Europe. If the tumor is discovered in time and can be surgically removed, the chance of survival after five years is thirty to fifty per cent. Patients whose cancer is in a more serious stage have an average of three to twenty months left to live. In order to trace tumors as early as possible, patients with cirrhosis of the liver have an ultrasound scan of the liver every six months.
Researchers at Ghent’s university hospital, UZ Gent, have now discovered that the GlycoCirrhoTest (GCT), a blood test for cirrhosis of the liver, is also a biomarker for HCC risk. The test was developed in 2004 by Professor Nico Callewaert (VIB/UGent) and Professor Hans Van Vlierberghe (UZ Gent/UGent) and analyses the glycome of blood serum. The GlycoCirrhoTest has recently been applied to blood serum samples from 132 patients with cirrhosis of the liver who had subsequent medical follow-up for four years.
In patients who developed a liver tumor within those four years, the test revealed significantly higher values. That means that the test can divide patients into a high and a low-risk group. In the future, doctors would be able to take this distinction into account, Dr Xavier Verhelst, hepatologist and researcher UZ Gent, explains: “Further research is required before this test can be applied everywhere, but our research results are very promising. The use of the GlycoCirrhoTest in patients with cirrhosis of the liver makes it possible to create a customized follow-up schedule for each patient. On the basis of the risk measured, they could receive intensive or less intensive screening.”
The GlycoCirrhoTest has undergone further development in recent years in Prof. Callewaert’s laboratory to be able to use the test in routine clinical laboratories. “We are doing everything we can to make this test available to doctors and patients as soon as possible.”
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