Cancers of the liver and bile ducts are the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the United States. There are several forms of liver cancer. The most common is called hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC. The main causes of the disease are infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C, or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) from any cause. Other risk factors include heavy alcohol use, fatty liver disease, obesity and diabetes. Patients whose HCC is identified at an early stage can receive much benefit from treatment with multiple liver-directed therapies. But because most of these patients are diagnosed with advanced-stage tumors, the overall survival rate of patients with HCC is poor. Nevertheless, recent treatment advances have significantly improved those survival rates.
Cholangiocarcinoma is the second most-common liver cancer. It is treated very differently from HCC. People with less-advanced cholangiocarcinoma are treated with surgery and treatments localized to their livers. But patients with more advanced disease typically receive chemotherapy. Molecular testing of the tumor can help doctors match patients with experimental targeted drugs, several of which are showing promise in ongoing clinical trials.
At Fred Hutch, our liver cancer researchers create new models of the disease in order to better understand the genetic changes that drive it. They pinpoint the biomarkers that will improve detection. And they test drug therapies to improve outcomes for patients.
Our researchers study the molecular mechanisms behind liver tumor formation and the factors that affect liver cancer development. They aim to use these findings to advance early detection and diagnosis. Our scientists also study the factors that affect whether a particular treatment works for a given patient. Our clinical trials test new and experimental drug therapies.
HCC is the third-most common cause of cancer-related death. High mortality rates stem in part from the difficulty of detecting HCC in its early stages. Hutch researchers are developing better ways to identify liver cancer earlier, when it is easier to treat.
Decoding the molecular mechanisms of cancer cells, and how they go off track, can help researchers discover new drug targets. Hutch scientists work to pinpoint the critical genetic changes that promote liver cancer and learn how it so successfully evades surveillance. Their goal: translate discoveries into new therapeutic avenues for patients.
The hepatitis B and C viruses cause liver cancer. Because infection is common, liver cancer will remain a major public health threat. Fred Hutch researchers are studying several aspects of hepatitis B and C viruses, with the aim of preventing liver cancer. For example, they are studying how the viruses are transmitted and how they affect cancer patients with compromised immune systems. Hutch researchers are also developing new techniques to cure hepatitis infection using gene-editing techniques.
Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new
cutting-edge therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies on various kinds of liver cancer.