WEDNESDAY, Oct. 7, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A short strand of RNA (microRNA) may help doctors identify liver cancer patients who would benefit from treatment with interferon, say U.S. and Chinese researchers.
"Interferon is an experimental therapeutic agent that has been used for many years to treat cancer patients, but with modest benefit," study first author Junfang Ji, of the liver carcinogenesis section at the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research, said in a news release.
"Our findings are exciting because we are rediscovering a drug that may have great potential for patients with a particular genomic profile," added senior author Xin Wei Wang, chief of the liver carcinogenesis section. "Being able to treat patients with an existing drug based on a tumor's genomic profile should improve its efficacy and reduce the cost of treatment."
The study of 241 liver cancer patients found that those with low levels of a microRNA called miR-26 lived about four years less than those with higher expression levels of the microRNA.
A separate analysis of liver tumor samples from 135 patients who had had surgery revealed that those with low levels of miR-26 benefitted from receiving adjuvant interferon therapy. Patients who received interferon lived at least 7.7 years longer than those who didn't receive the drug. Interferon didn't benefit patients with normal levels of miR-26.
The findings suggest that checking miR-26 levels in liver tumors may help determine patient prognosis and identify patients who might benefit from interferon treatment in order to prevent disease relapse, the researchers said.
The study appears in the Oct. 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The American Cancer Society has more about liver cancer treatment.