A trial of an experimental drug to treat advanced liver cancer has helped extend patients lives by as much as three months.
The drug Nexavar is made by German drugmaker Bayer and U.S. company Onyx, and the trial results were so promising that the study was stopped early because of the survival advantage and the drug was offered to all 602 patients.
Nexavar is just one of a number of new treatments which target cell receptors and thereby block the growth of the cancer.
Liver cancer is relatively uncommon in the U.S. killing about 17,000 people annually and is usually treated with a mixture of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy but it nevertheless kills 622,000 people globally each year and is the third biggest cause of cancer deaths worldwide.
If this treatment fails there are no other effective options and many patients die within a year of diagnosis.
The disease is common in China and countries without widespread use of the hepatitis B vaccine, which is given to U.S. infants.
According to Joseph Llovet, director of liver cancer research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who led the trial, Sorafenib is the first effective systemic treatment for liver cancer and is a major breakthrough in the management of the disease.
Nexavar (sorafenib), already has approval to treat kidney cancer and as with many new cancer therapies, it is now being tested to evaluate it's effectiveness in fighting other cancers and Bayer will apply for full approval to U.S. and European regulators this year.
The primary causes of liver cancer are exposure to the hepatitis B and C viruses, which can occur through sharing dirty needles, unprotected sex, childbirth and blood transfusions, but smoking and alcohol are also risk factors.
Once a person contracts the virus, it can take several decades to develop into cancer.