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Immunotherapy for Liver Cancer
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What Makes Immunotherapy a Promising Treatment for Liver Cancer?

Reviewed By: Jonathan S. Cebon, Ph.D., FRACP
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Austin Health/Ludwig Cancer Research, Melbourne, Australia
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A cancer type at the forefront of immune-based cancer research, liver cancer is a disease affecting approximately 39,000 people the U.S. in 2016, causing roughly 27,000 deaths (typically more common in men than in women).

Cancers of the liver often spread to other organ systems, such as the breasts or lungs. Approximately 80% of liver cancers start in the hepatocytes, a certain type of liver cells.

Since the human body cannot survive without a functioning liver, this cancer presents an urgent need for more effective treatments. Thankfully, several immunotherapies for liver cancer have shown promising results in initial clinical trials, including the categories of checkpoint inhibitors/immune modulators, monoclonal antibodies, adoptive cell transfer, and oncolytic virus therapy.

Notably, checkpoint inhibitors, or immune modulators, demonstrate significant potential for treating liver cancer, with many clinical trials currently being developed. One checkpoint inhibitor, nivolumab, has already been approved for previously treated liver cancer patients. These treatments can serve to enhance cancer-fighting immune system responses, but may not always be available or viable for patients with a history of hepatitis infection, as this type of immune system activity can damage normal, functioning liver cells.

Are you a patient or caregiver interested in learning more about cancer immunotherapy treatment and clinical trials? If so, visit our Patient section on immunotherapy for liver cancer.

CRI's Impact on Liver Cancer

At the Cancer Research Institute, we're dedicated to supporting scientific research for liver cancer, working to advance immunotherapy as a viable treatment for people affected by this disease. The scientists we fund have studied liver cancer—and the chronic inflammation from hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses that causes it—for more than 30 years.

CRI-funded researchers from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina and the University of Oxford, UK, have conducted studies that work to demonstrate such breakthroughs as the galectin-1 protein's potential to prevent or slow liver cancer progression and mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) immune cells' ability to target and eliminate liver cancer cells. In 2013, CRI awarded a STaRT grant to a graduate student scientist studying the immune system's role in regulation post-intestinal damage—work that aims to discover new therapeutic targets for the treatment and prevention of liver cancer through the reduction of inflammation caused by intestinal bacteria. Additional CRI-supported research at the University of California, San Diego is being done to gain more insight into the connection between obesity-induced liver damage inflammation and the progression of liver cancer.

Won't you join us in our fight against liver cancer? Together, we can change the way liver cancer is treated and cured—for good.

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