Patients with cancer usually do not die as a result of their originally diagnosed tumor. However, many do so as a result of metastatic disease — tumors that arise at distant sites after spreading from the original tumor. Identifying biomarkers of tumor metastasis would therefore be of immense clinical benefit.

In this context, a team of researchers — led by Peng Loh, at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda; and Ronnie Poon, at the The University of Hong Kong, China — has now identified a potential biomarker for predicting future metastasis in patients with the most common form of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma [HCC]).

Specifically, the team found that quantification of the mRNA template for a truncated version of the protein carboxypeptidase E (CPE) in HCC patient samples predicted intrahepatic metastasis with high sensitivity and specificity. They therefore suggest that this truncated protein could be a powerful biomarker for predicting future metastasis in patients with HCC and thereby be of use to clinicians, helping guide therapeutic decisions.