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At present, there are various lines of research in the field of liver cancer:
Early diagnosis. The possibilities of being cured basically depend on the ability to diagnose the disease in its early, asymptomatic stages. Some research projects are working to improve different imaging techniques to enable a noninvasive diagnosis in very early stages and in a greater number of patients, and to advance the diagnosis of any recurrences and/or the extent of the tumour.
Tumour markers. Tumour markers are substances that can be found in blood and which are associated with the presence and spread of a tumour. In addition, certain tumour markers have a prognostic value. As such, researchers are studying different tumour markers to improve the early diagnosis and prognostic assessments.
Research into state-of-the-art surgical instrumentation. It is important to evaluate any technical advances in the field of surgery which may facilitate the development of minimally invasive surgical interventions that minimise the risk of liver decompensation as much as possible. Ultimately, this will increase the number of potential candidates for surgery and improve survival rates.
Studies into new ablative and locoregional treatment options. Locoregional treatments are the most common type applied in clinical practice and technical advances in recent years have improved the results obtained with this therapeutic option. In this context, researchers are studying different techniques to improve percutaneous ablation with new needles, the use of image fusion methods (merging MRI and ultrasound images together) to improve the visibility of small tumours located in the dome of the liver, and so on. With respect to intra-arterial therapies, studies are being conducted into the safety and efficacy of new chemotherapy-loaded beads.
Systemic treatment response predictors. The response to current systemic treatments (particularly sorafenib) varies greatly between patients and there are no known basal factors that can predict treatment response. For this reason, investigators are trying to identify different basal factors that can be used to select which patients will respond satisfactorily to treatment and therefore avoid administering treatments (with their associated costs and side effects) to those who will not respond.
Molecular mechanisms in tissue samples and cell cultures and experimental models. Knowledge of the molecular alterations that cause tumour onset and progression is a crucial step in the development of future treatments.
Studies into new treatment options. One of the most active areas is the evaluation of new treatment options and one of the most attractive possibilities is immunotherapy, consisting of the intravenous administration of a substance that boosts the immune system’s ability to recognise and destroy tumours.