Abdominal pain
New Test Catches Liver Cancer EarlyTips Times/Flickr

Scientists have developed a new test to help diagnose liver cancer early.

A team of researchers from the Georgia Regents University (GRU) in the US revealed on Friday that the new test accurately identifies cancer cells among the normal liver cells by providing them a red-brown colour. The test works on a unique probe that is capable of detecting and colouring the microRNA associated with liver cancer known as mir-21.

Scientists proved the effectiveness of the probe by conducting experiments on biopsies of 20 livers. Half of the cells were affected with early liver cancer and the rest were healthy and cancer-free cells. The probe accurately identified liver cancer cells through a red-brown hue.

The invention is seen as a breakthrough in medical history as the test will help diagnose the disease in the very early stages, much earlier than the tests that are currently available.  

Identifying the condition early, without much delay is one of the crucial factors that determine success of the treatment. "There is no definitive test for early diagnosis of liver cancer. Our test adds a level of comfort for making the diagnosis," lead author of the study, pathologist Dr Ravindra Kolhe, said in a news release. Kohle is the Medical Director of the Georgia Esoteric, Molecular Labs, LLC, at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

The researcher added that the invention is particularly significant as symptoms of the disease will not appear until the cancer reaches its peak, lowering the success of various treatments including hepatectomy (a surgery to remove the affected portion of the liver), liver transplant surgery or destroying cancer cells by heating them (radiofrequency ablation).

With the success of the initial trials, scientists are testing the probe on 200 more cases of liver cancer. Apart from that, they are also planning to apply the same technique to detect other deadly cancers that are hidden during the early stages.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Pathology 2013 Annual Meeting in Chicago, this week. 

The findings come at a time when liver cancer claims a significant number of lives in India, making it the third leading causes of cancer deaths in the country. During an international symposium organised by the Institute of Liver & Biliary Sciences (ILBS) Hospital in New Delhi last year, Doctors reported that liver cancer is becoming more common in India. They claim to receive nearly 10 new cases of liver cancer every week.

Heavy drinking, obesity, diabetes, and developing either HBV (hepatitis B virus) or HCV (hepatitis C virus) infections are some of the factors that increase the risk of developing liver cancer. Some of the symptoms as provided by Mayo Clinic in US are:

  • Weight loss without any reason
  • Poor appetite, vomiting, nausea
  • Suffer from upper abdominal pain, swelling
  • Feeling of exhaustion
  • Jaundice
  • Changed colour of stools (white)