Early detection can be instrumental in treating many forms of cancer. But without the all-important biomarkers that point to disease, making a proper diagnosis in the early stages can prove challenging.

Now a new study being presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is shedding light on a cancer that has long been difficult to diagnose. 

Researchers from Georgetown University have identified both a possible biomarker for liver cancer and a suppressor of its growth, bringing scientists closer to pinning down the disease.

Get the Facts: Learn About Liver Cancer »

Diagnosing Liver Cancer

Biomarkers act as red flags in the body. They are critical in signaling the presence of cancer and other biological conditions. When biomarkers can’t be detected early on, sometimes the diagnosis comes too late for patients. This is often the case with liver cancer. 

“Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, remains the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide due to a lack of biomarkers for early detection and rapid fatality shortly after diagnosis,” said lead researcher Ying Fu, Ph.D., of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, in a press release. 

Physical symptoms don’t ultimately confirm the presence of liver cancer either. Nonspecific symptoms such as abdominal swelling, upper abdominal pain, jaundice, and loss of appetite may all point to liver cancer, but these signs don’t always manifest in the early stages of the disease. 

A combination of factors put patients at a disadvantage: The absence of biomarkers for early detection as well as delayed, vague symptoms can hinder a diagnosis.

Read More: Explore the Liver »

Research and Results

In this study, researchers identified a damaged lesion on a DNA base as a possible biomarker for liver cancer in mouse models. The scientists found that the accumulation of an adduct (the product of an addition reaction between two compounds) named γ-OHPdG stimulated the formation of tumors in the livers of mice.

Researchers also identified three antioxidants with chemoprotective properties: α-lipoic acid, vitamin E, and polyphenon E, a formulation of green tea extract. 

All of the dietary antioxidants inhibited liver tumors in the mouse models, with polyphenon E being the most effective. In fact, 86 percent of the mice that received the polyphenon E diet appeared to be completely protected from the development of tumors. 

Green tea has long been praised for its antioxidant properties. It has also been linked to longevity and wellness. While a form of green tea was shown to be effective in mouse models to prevent the growth of liver cancer, it remains to be seen whether the results can be replicated in a clinical trial. 

Various studies suggest that the antioxidants in green tea may prevent or slow the metastasis of certain cancers. However, the medicinal properties of green tea have not been fully confirmed. While tea may yield a number of health benefits, the National Cancer Institute “does not recommend for or against the use of tea to reduce the risk of any type of cancer.”