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Two-pronged approach to catch liver cancer at its earliest stages

Researchers at UT Southwestern's Simmons Cancer Center have found that combining ultrasound imaging with a blood test can improve liver cancer detection by 40 percent.

Over the last 10-year period, liver cancer had the largest increase in mortality among all solid tumors.

Texas actually has the highest incidence in mortality for liver cancer in the country.

So if you’re found early, the survival is often greater than 5 years. If you’re found at later stages, the survival is more on the 1 to 2-year period.

We find that most people are found at later stages because of the inability of our current surveillance tests to find them.

The current recommendation has largely been to use abdominal ultrasound which is cheap. It’s readily available. It’s not invasive, but it doesn’t work very well when used alone.

So we found that actually ultrasound is only able to detect about half of liver cancers at an early stage. We looked at the combination of ultrasound with a blood test called alpha fetoprotein and so when using the two in combination, you can actually find over two-thirds of patients at an early stage.

I think our study helped inform these changes in practice guidelines.

This is one big step in the right direction. We found a way that we can easily increase the proportion of patients found at an early age, but as you heard, we’re still only at that two-thirds mark so we have a long way to go.