Telling More of the Liver Cancer Story

Liver cancer risks higher in hepatitis B patients with longer telomeres

(RxWiki News) Telomeres are like the caps at the end of poster tubes. They are found at the end of chromosomes and help protect genetic data. Scientists have discovered that the length of telomeres can help predict liver cancer risk.

People who have Hepatitis B (a liver disease) and longer telomeres are at greater risk of developing liver cancer than those with shorter telomeres.

"Make sure you and your kids have received the Hepatitis B vaccine (HBV)."

Results from a study conducted by researchers at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2012.

Liver cancer, technically called non-cirrhotic (not cirrhosis)  hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is commonly caused by Hepatitis B and C viral infections.

An association between the length of a person's telomeres could help physicians better predict, possibly prevent or treat liver disease in hepatitis B patients.

Hushan Yang, Ph.D., of the Division of Population Science at the Department of Medical Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center, and colleagues worked with a group of individuals with hepatitis B.

The group included nearly 2,600 Korean Americans, a population that has extremely high rates of hepatitis B infections. Blood samples from 400 hepatitis B  patients were taken to analyze telomere length.

Study participants included 140 hepatitis B patients with HCC and 280 hepatitis B patients who didn't have cancer. Participants were limited to Korean patients to balance out effects of ethnicity and disease origins. Most of the participants had been infected with hepatitis B either at birth or during childhood.

Hep B patients with liver cancer had 50 percent longer telomeres than hepatitis B patients without cancer. This was true only for male patients and those without cirrhosis. 

Yang says this study, which needs to be supplement with further research, "could potentially be used as a simple, inexpensive and non- invasive biomarker for HCC risk."

This research was supported by two grants from the National Cancer Institute, a Tobacco Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, an American Cancer Society grant, and a Research Scholar Award from the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

It should be noted that research is considered preliminary before it's published in peer-reviewed journals.

Review Date: 
April 16, 2012