DNA Test for Liver Cancer Might Soon Be Reality

(Credit: Cancer Research UK)

Researchers have completed a phase II study comparing a set of DNA markers to alpha-fetoprotein as a method to test for liver cancer.

Currently, doctors use ultrasound and a blood marker called alpha-fetoprotein to test for liver cancer.

“Unfortunately, these tests are not very sensitive for curable stage liver cancers, and most patients who need this testing do not have it easily available or [are] not able to receive it often enough to be effective,” gastroenterologist, John Kisiel said.

Dr. Kisiel and this team at the Mayo Clinic have developed a single blood test using abnormal DNA markers that are known to exist in liver cancer tissues. 

The team were able to confirm that the abnormal DNA markers were present in the overwhelming majority of blood samples that came from people with primary liver cancers. 

Simultaneously, these markers were absent in healthy individuals and individuals with cirrhosis of the liver, but no evidence of tumours in their clinical follow-up. 

“We were most excited that our DNA markers were able to detect more than 90% of patients with curable stage tumours,” Dr. Kisiel said. “This is the main reason why we think a DNA test will make a difference, compared to currently available tests.” 

Dr. Kisiel says the next step will be to validate these markers in blood testing on much larger patient cohorts.