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UTSW researchers identify a new biomarker to assess your risk of liver cancer

UT Southwestern Medical Center

Liver cancer is one of the hardest diseases to detect. KERA’s Sam Baker talked with Dr. Yujin Hoshida, a professor of internal medicine and head of the Liver Tumor Translational Research Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center, about the significance of the project he leads.


How the biomarker works

What you need is just a small amount of blood from which we measure the amount of a protein in it, and then we assess the pattern of that abundance of the protein in the blood, and we can estimate the risk level of future liver cancer they recommend. 

What we can tell is the probability of cancer development. For example, you will develop cancer at 50% of probability at five years. 

We are refining the biomarker. We are making progress to reach the highest accuracy. 

The need for the biomarker

Liver cancer is now the fastest-rising cause of cancer death in the U.S.

Also, we are facing a massive increase of patients with fatty liver with the epidemic of diabetes. There's a study estimating that up to one-fourth of the global population is affected by fatty liver, which can progress into liver cancer. So practically, it's impossible to monitor that huge number of individuals.

Therefore, we really need a major tool to identify the small subset of patients who really need close attention to diagnose liver cancer at an early stage and treat it with effective therapy. 

Does the difficulty in detecting liver cancer early contribute to the low survival rate of that disease?

We think so because there is no symptom at the beginning of the liver cancer development and then when the patients develop symptoms, it’s too late.  The treatment options have been limited and not curative. 

When the risk assessment is ready for use with patients, will this increase the chances of early detection?

Increasing the chance of early detection is the one primary benefit. Another appealing use is to guide who could be a good target for a new medicine to reduce the cancer risk. There has been active research also to develop new drugs to reduce liver cancer risk.


American Cancer Society

What are Biomarkers?

Risk factors for liver cancer

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.