Liver Cancer (cont.)
Keith E. Stuart, MD
Keith E. Stuart, MD
Dr. Keith E. Stuart is a medical oncologist specializing in the study and treatment of cancers involving the gastrointestinal tract, with a special interest in tumors involving the liver. He was educated at Harvard University (graduating magna cum laude) and Albert Einstein College of Medicine and did his medical training at the New England Deaconess Hospital.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
What is fibrolamellar carcinoma?
Fibrolamellar carcinoma is a liver cancer variant that is found in non-cirrhotic livers, usually in younger patients between 20 and 40 years of age. In fact, these patients have no associated liver disease and no risk factors have been identified. The alpha-fetoprotein in these patients is usually normal. The appearance of fibrolamellar carcinoma under the microscope is quite characteristic. That is, broad bands of scar tissue are seen running through the cancerous liver cells. The important thing about fibrolamellar carcinoma is that it has a much better prognosis than the common type of liver cancer. Thus, even with a fairly extensive fibrolamellar carcinoma, a patient can have a successful surgical removal.
What's in the future for the prevention and treatment of liver cancer?
Worldwide, the majority of liver cancer is associated with chronic hepatitis B virus infection. Today, however, all newborns are vaccinated against hepatitis B in China and other Asian countries. Therefore, the frequency of chronic hepatitis B virus in future generations will decrease. Eventually, perhaps in three or four generations, hepatitis B virus will be totally eradicated, thereby eliminating the most common risk factor for liver cancer. Studies have already shown a decrease of up to 75% in the incidence of liver cancer in children and teenagers in Hong Kong and even in the United States since routine vaccination was introduced.
Some retrospective (looking back in time) studies suggest that patients with chronic hepatitis C who were treated with interferon were less likely to develop liver cancer than patients who were not treated. Interestingly, in these studies, interferon treatment seemed to provide this benefit, even to patients who had less than an optimal antiviral response to interferon. Still, it remains to be seen whether the risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer is significantly decreased in prospectively (looking ahead) followed patients who responded to interferon.
Theoretically, we know that liver cancer should be an almost totally preventable disease. Most of it is caused by infection with hepatitis; this can be reduced (if not eliminated) by treating infected mothers before they give birth, vaccinating all children regardless of where they live, screening the blood supply to avoid infected transfusion, and always using clean needles for any injections. (Many cases of hepatitis C infection are thought to have been from doctors or schools using the same needles for many patients or classroom vaccinations!) Aflatoxin contamination can be eradicated by proper storing of foodstuffs and, in fact, is not a measurable problem in developed countries. Alcohol abuse is difficult to eliminate, but at an individual level, this is a totally avoidable risk factor for liver cancer. Even more difficult is obesity and diabetes, but as with alcohol, personal lifestyle choices will directly lead to the development of this cancer. Therefore, a combination of societal, financial, and political changes around the world could lead to a very substantial decrease in the incidence of this cancer over the next two to three decades.
Treatment options for liver cancer have grown exponentially over the past two decades. Using the way the cancer
Additional resources from WebMD Boots UK on Liver Cancer
Previous contributing author and editor:
Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD on 9/16/2011
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