Liver cancer

With more than 780,000 new cases diagnosed every year, liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer worldwide. Almost 400,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in China, Japan and South Korea, 52,000 in the EU and about 30,000 in the United States. Men are significantly more affected overall than women.

Liver cancer causes death more often than many other tumors, and patients are usually diagnosed with late-stage disease. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related death globally. Liver cancer accounts for approximately 746,000 deaths worldwide a year. In Europe, less than 10 percent of patients live for more than five years after diagnosis.

The most common form of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma or cancer (HCC). HCC accounts for about 90 percent of the total liver cancer burden worldwide.

Prevention and Detection

In eight out of ten people who develop HCC, the malignant change in the cells is preceded by chronic hepatitis B. Hepatitis C is also regarded as a potential precursor of a tumor, as is cirrhosis of the liver, a pathological change in the liver tissue involving shrinkage. Two to three decades can pass before the carcinoma develops. There are additional risk factors that increase the likelihood of a tumor developing, such as excessive alcohol consumption and obesity.

The early detection of HCC is crucial for successful treatment, because the tumor can be surgically removed in early stage disease. In many cases, diagnoses are made when the disease has progressed past the point of surgical resection. According to an estimate by the German Cancer Society, 70% of HCC diagnoses are made in patients with unresectable disease. Symptoms usually do not occur until the disease has reached an advanced stage – and to some extent symptoms are relatively non-specific. They include loss of appetite and nausea, as well as pressure and pain in the upper abdomen.

A blood test and an ultrasound examination can detect HCC, and computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can then confirm a possible diagnosis.

The Bayer/Onyx drug combats tumor growth in two ways: by inhibiting the division of cancer cells and by blocking the supply of blood to the tumor. The drug is now approved for the treatment of advanced HCC in more than 100 countries around the world.

Unmet Need

Until 2007 there were no approved systemic therapies to delay liver cancer progression. In 2007, Bayer and the U.S. biotechnology company Onyx Pharmaceuticals received marketing authorization for the first drug to show an improvement in overall survival in HCC patients. Despite numerous additional clinical trials, until now no other drug has been able to show an overall survival benefit in patients with HCC.

Advice for patients

Each body reacts differently to medicines. Therefore it is impossible to tell which medicine works best for you. Please consult your physician.