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Ultrasound combined with blood test led to significantly improved cancer diagnosis


New form of diagnosis is very effective

More and more people are getting liver cancer these days. It is very important to diagnose the disease early in order to ensure the survival of those affected. The combination of modern ultrasound imaging with a blood test leads to a significantly improved diagnosis of liver cancer.

In their current investigation, scientists from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that a new form of diagnosis leads to better early detection of liver cancer. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Gastroenterology".

New method improves diagnosis by up to 40 percent

The combination of ultrasound imaging with a blood test for high levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) improves the diagnosis of early-stage liver cancer by up to 40 percent, the doctors say. Early detection of liver cancer is very important to improve survival. "If the cancer is found early, we can offer curative therapies," explains study author Professor Dr. G. Amit Singal. Unfortunately, liver cancer is usually only discovered in late stages when curative treatment is no longer possible, the expert adds. This leads to a reduced likelihood of surviving the disease.

Liver cancer is on the rise

While the incidence of most cancers in the United States is declining, the incidence of liver cancer has increased by 2.7 percent per year in the past ten years. In the U.S., an estimated 40,700 new cases of liver cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, doctors say.

What are the risk factors for liver cancer?

Risk factors for liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC, include, for example, hepatitis C infection, heavy chronic alcohol consumption, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease associated with diabetes and obesity. Symptoms for this form of cancer include abdominal pain or swelling in the area, weight loss, loss of appetite, and general fatigue.

Ultrasound alone does not recognize many types of cancer

Liver cancer screening in patients with chronic liver disease has traditionally been performed using an ultrasound scan of the abdomen. Although ultrasound is readily available and non-invasive, this type of examination does not recognize many types of cancer if they are still at a very early stage, explains Professor Dr. Singal.

How does the new method of diagnosis work?

The study found that a test of the blood biomarker alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) greatly improved the detection of early hepatocellular carcinoma. A combination of the two tests increased the likelihood of a successful diagnosis from 45 percent (during the ultrasound examination) to 63 percent. AFP is a so-called plasma protein. AFP levels are usually low in adults, but liver cancer can increase.

Diagnostic methods have to be adapted

"Our results underscore the importance of the continuous development and validation of blood-based biomarkers for the early detection of liver cancer. Most importantly, our results support a change in clinical practice and the routine use of ultrasound and biomarkers for liver cancer screening, ”said study author Professor Dr. Singal in a press release from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. (as)

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