Liver cancer is not easy to diagnose in the early stage and, by the time the patient presents with
symptoms, it is normally too late for curative treatment. Now focusing on conducting research to look for better treatment approaches.
From comparing different treatment
options to developing personalised
are looking at how they can improve
survival rates for liver cancer
Only recently have pharmaceutical
companies and researchers begun
paying more attention to the
disease, experts here told The
This April, a $7.5 million grant
was awarded by Singapore’s National
Medical Research Council to
study liver cancer.
There are currently 13 clinical trials
for the cancer being run at the
Centre Singapore (NCCS).
This is considered a “fairly high”
number, given that the condition
is not the most common cancer
here, said Associate Professor
Teoh Yee Leong, who is chief executive
of the Singapore Clinical Research
Institute (SCRI), which coordinates
research both inside and
outside the country.
The disease is the third-deadliest
cancer nationally, and only
about a fifth of patients with early-
stage hepatocellular carcinoma
(HCC) – the most common form of
liver cancer – are eligible for surgery
Until recently, however, very little
research had been done on liver
cancer compared with, say, breast
or colorectal cancers, said Professor
Pierce Chow, a senior consultant
surgeon with NCCS and Singapore General Hospital.
“Things have changed, and we
now have both the scientific ability
and funding to carry out research
on this cancer, which is so important
to our patients,” he said.
“In a way, we are making up for
lost time as outcomes for liver cancer
still lag significantly behind
those for other common cancers.”
One reason for the increased interest
is that clinician scientists
want to improve treatment outcomes
– the disease is considered
a “death sentence” for those who
are diagnosed in the late stages,
said Prof Teoh.
“This cancer is not easy to diagnose
in the early stage and, by the
time the patient presents with
symptoms, it is normally too late
for curative treatment,” he noted.
“Thus, there is now a lot of focus
on conducting research into liver
cancer to look for better treatment
A team of researchers from SCRI
and NCCS is leading a clinical trial
to compare two treatment methods
for liver cancer.
For the trial, one group of patients
is treated with the oral drug
Sorafenib, which curbs the ability
of cancer cells to develop, while
the other group is treated using a
targeted radiation therapy.
Sorafenib is currently the only
targeted drug approved for use
against liver cancer and is commonly
used for patients with an advanced
form of the disease.
The trial has completed its recruitment
of 360 participants
from various Asian countries, including
Thailand, the Philippines
Researchers are now in the process
of analysing the results to find
out which treatment option works
better, said Prof Teoh.
Results are expected to be out
“Each country by itself might
not have sufficient numbers of patients
to analyse the research findings
but, pooling together all the
data collected in these countries,
we can analyse the data and find
out which treatment options are
the best for patients in Asia,” said
“Ultimately, the results will benefit
not just patients in Singapore but
also patients in Asia.”
Separately, a team comprising clinicians
and researchers from several
institutions will carry out
in-depth studies on the genomics
and immunologyof liver cancer.
Recruitment for the trial has