Hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common form of liver cancer, has low long-term survival rates, and the current drugs approved to treat it only extend lifespan by about three months. While researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine emphasize that any preservation of life is worthwhile, they are on the heels of something even greater, and claim their newly developed liver tumor treatment could extend patient survival rates much farther.

According to a recently published study, this new treatment involves the use of both chemotherapy and immunotherapy, and in animal studies has significantly slowed the acceleration of liver tumor growth in mice. This slow-down of tumor growth was more significant than that produced by either the standard chemotherapy or immunotherapy when used on their own.

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Results officially showed that tumors in mice treated with immunotherapy grew at a slower rate and were 15 times larger, compared to tumors in mice treated only with chemotherapy, which grew 25 times larger. However, mice treated with both had tumors which were only 11 times larger. While this is still far from a cure for this form of cancer, it could have significant benefits for patients with the disease.

"Our results show that a combined chemo-immunotherapeutic approach can slow tumor growth in mice more effectively than either individual treatment," said Guangfu Li in a recent statement. "Our findings support the need for a clinical trial to test whether this could become a cost-effective treatment that could help improve the lives of patients with liver cancer."

Hepatocellular carcinoma is often hard to diagnose, and when it is diagnosed, it may be too late for surgical options. The American Cancer Society reports that the disease can either start as a single tumor on the liver or may begin as many small tumors throughout the liver.

While chemotherapy has long stood as the go-to treatment for cancer patients, immunotherapy is being increasingly recognized for its effectiveness in fighting the disease. According to The American Cancer Society, immunotherapy works by either stimulating your own immune system, or giving your immune system certain components, both with the aim of allowing the patient's own body to defeat cancer. This is done through the use of various techniques, such as with cancer vaccines, drugs that help strengthen the immune system, or man-made molecules that work as antibodies to attack cancer cells.

Source: Li G, Liu D, Cooper TK, et al. Successful chemoimmunotherapy against hepatocellular cancer in a novel murine model. 2017

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