Researchers Identify How Hepatitis Leads to Liver Cancer

February 6, 2015
Davy James, Associate Editor

A recent study has identified how chronic hepatitis infection can pave the way to liver cancer.

A recent study has identified how chronic hepatitis infection can pave the way to liver cancer.

The study, published recently in Nature Communications, examined how chronic hepatitis infection and inflammation can effect genetic mutations located in liver tumors, which leads to a better understanding of how chronic infections lead to cancer. The researchers performed whole genomic sequencing on 30 liver cancer tumors that displayed a biliary phenotype.

This cancer type is different than hepatocellular carcinoma, which is more aggressive and carries a worse prognosis. The researchers compared the data with 60 common hepatocellular carcinoma tumors.

The researchers evaluated gene expression through RNA sequencing data from 25 biliary-phenotype cancers and 44 hepatocellular cancers. The patterns of gene expression were found to be different between hepatocellular carcinomas and the liver cancers with biliary phenotype.

The study noted that the overall cell mutation pattern was similar between tumors of either type that emerged in patients with either hepatitis C or B, which was different in patients without such infections, the study noted.

A similar type of clustering has also been found in cancers with well-understood etiologies, such as melanoma and lung cancer, the study noted.

"This is an interesting finding and could indicate that the cancers -- even of different histological types -- in patients with hepatitis infections could be derived from similar cells, perhaps hepatic progenitor cells,” study lead Hidewaki Nakagawa of the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences, said in a press release. “In patients without hepatitis, we did not find any clustering, and this indicates that their cancers might have a very different cellular origin."

The researchers were also able to identify the changes in mutations of KRAS and IDHs, which are associated with more aggressive cancers.

"Through our analysis, we were able to identify some liver cancers with biliary phenotype that are closer to liver cancer, and others that are similar to bile duct cancer,” Nakagawa said. “We hope that this will in the future allow us to create therapies tailored for each type. We also hope that the new mutations we discovered could be used as targets for future therapeutics."