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Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Vanessa Wasta 410-955-1287
March 30, 2004


Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists have developed a blood test that can predict some future cases of liver cancer in hepatitis B patients.  The test is based on a biomarker that detects mutations in the hepatitis B virus (HBV) that tend to speed up cancer development in people who test positive for the virus.

"We can use this biomarker to identify patients who may be good candidates for liver cancer  prevention studies," says John Groopman, M.D., director of cancer prevention at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Groopman's team conducted initial experiments on 70 liver tumor samples, in which 52 of them (74.3 percent) were found to have HBV mutations.  HBV mutations also were found in available blood samples from three out of four patients whose tumors were positive for HBV mutations.

To determine whether the presence of HBV mutations in the blood could predict future cancers, the researchers monitored 120 people in China, where liver cancer and HBV infection rates are high.  After 10 years, there were six cases of major liver disease, including four cases of liver cancer, one hepatitis case and one patient with liver cirrhosis.  In all six cases, HBV mutations were found in the blood up to eight years before their diagnosis.  In another group from China, eight of 15 (53.3 percent) blood samples from liver cancer patients, originally at high risk for the disease, showed HBV mutations.

Some 300 million people worldwide and 1.2 million in the United States are carriers of chronic HBV.  About 15 - 25 percent will develop liver cancer or cirrhosis.

This information was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 at 2:25 p.m. ET.  Abstract #4785