Hepatitis causes liver cancer

World Hepatitis Day

Almost 20 percent of all cancers worldwide can be traced back to viruses and bacteria. The most important pathogens are the gastric bacterium Heliobacter pylori, the human papilloma virus and hepatitis B and C viruses. In 2018, infections with the hepatitis viruses B and C caused around 520,000 new cancer cases - almost all of which affected the liver. The reason for this is the complex processes that the virus pathogens trigger in the liver; Among other things, this can lead to so-called cirrhosis of the liver, which is considered to be the main risk factor for liver cancer.

Increase in the number of diseases

Liver cancer is increasing significantly in Germany as well as in other European countries and the USA. In the past 35 years, the number of new cases has doubled in men and women. According to the Robert Koch Institute, an increase in the number of cases to a total of over 10,000 new diseases is also expected for 2020.

Risk factors for developing liver cancer

The increase is associated with high rates of new hepatitis C infections in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, high alcohol consumption and an increasingly common chronically fatty liver caused by obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus (diabetes) . These are all risk factors for developing liver cancer.

More about the influence of one's own lifestyle on the risk of cancer

Liver cancer is still too often fatal

Liver cancer (synonyms: primary hepatocellular carcinoma, liver carcinoma, hepatocellular cancer or hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC for short) is a rare tumor disease in Germany. According to the Robert Koch Institute, there are currently around 9,000 new cases per year. But at the same time, almost 8,000 people die from it in the same period. Along with cancer of the pancreas, liver cancer is one of the deadliest types of cancer.

On the one hand, this is due to the fact that 7 out of 10 liver cancers have so far been diagnosed in the no longer curable stage, as the symptoms are often unspecific and start late. In addition, liver tumors respond very poorly to chemotherapy and the prognosis depends primarily on whether the tumor can be completely surgically removed or a liver transplant can be performed.

Addressing the global problem of viral hepatitis together

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the World Health Organization (WHO) expressly calls on all countries to take measures to combat viral hepatitis.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) initiated and funded the “Competence Network Hepatitis” as early as 2002 and, since 2012, the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) with the hepatitis research area. Both institutions aim to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of hepatitis through research. Some promising approaches from this are already on the way to clinical application.

Funding under the National Decade Against Cancer

Now the BMBF is funding a systems medicine research network for the early detection and prevention of liver cancer (LiSyM cancer) as part of the National Decade against Cancer. Because detected early, the disease can be treated more successfully. In addition, the researchers in the network are working to better understand, predict and, in the best case, even prevent the development of liver cancer.

The elucidation of the basic mechanisms involved in the development of liver cancer and the development of diagnostic tools and preventive measures are essential for this. The focus of the measure is on the key processes that can lead to liver cancer. The aim is to use innovative systems medicine research approaches to develop new and improved methods for the early diagnosis and prevention of liver cancer, which allow individualized therapeutic measures and can better predict the possible course of the disease.

LiSyM cancer is based on the successful research activities of the previous BMBF program LiSyM (systems medicine of the liver). Here, researchers were able to make an important contribution to the elucidation of fundamental mechanisms in the development of liver diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including through bioinformatic analysis of biological systems simulated on computers. Since the proportion of overweight people who develop fatty liver in the course of their lives is increasing in the western industrialized nations and this disease is largely responsible for the increase in liver cancer cases in Germany, the research work started in LiSyM provides an important basis for processing oncological diseases Research questions.

The resulting knowledge and methodological approaches are to be used and further developed for the implementation of the goals of the LiSyM cancer research network. For the LiSyM cancer measure, an interdisciplinary network from all over Germany is being formed in which the individual working groups work together across the board.