Liver cancer can be caught at an early stage through a newly developed blood test, improving the odds for survival, according to a study led by University of California San Diego scientists.

The test looks for changed gene activity, caused by a process called methylation, that indicate liver cancer, said Kang Zhang, M.D., the study’s senior author. Methylation turns genes on or off, but doesn’t affect the underlying DNA sequence.

Early detection is important for the best outcome, Zhang said. Moreover, a blood test is simpler to administer than an invasive liver biopsy or imaging.

Long-term survival is more likely when the cancer is still localized to the liver than when it has spread, according to the National Cancer Institute.

  • People diagnosed with localized liver cancer have a five-year survival rate of 31.1 percent.
  • For those whose cancers have spread to nearby regions, survival drops to 10.7 percent.
  • And for those whose cancers have spread to distant regions, the five-year survival rate is just 2.8 percent.

The study was published Monday in the journal Nature Materials, and can be found at

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