Immunotherapeutic approaches to hepatocellular carcinoma treatment

Liver Cancer. 2012 Nov;1(3-4):226-37. doi: 10.1159/000343837.


Liver cancer, the most common form of which is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is one of the most deadly cancers worldwide. As of 2008, in men, HCC was the fifth most common cancer (approximately 450,000 new cases per year) and the second most frequent cause of death from cancer (around 416,000 deaths per year), whereas in women, it was the seventh most frequently diagnosed cancer (150,000 new cases per year) and the sixth most frequent cause of cancer deaths (140,000 deaths per year) [1]. Overall, HCC is the third leading cause of death from cancer globally [2, 3]. Worldwide, the incidence of HCC in males is more than twice that in females. The etiology of HCC is diverse; however, approximately 80% of HCCs occur secondary to chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or hepatitis C virus (HCV) [4]. The geographic distribution of HCC is such that the high-incidence regions of Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa bear a disproportionate HCC burden, amounting to more than 80% of the global burden [4]. However, even in areas considered low-incidence regions-North America and Europe-the incidence of HCC is on the rise [4]. In the US, HCC incidence has risen more than threefold in the past 30 years, and it is now the ninth most frequent cause of death from cancer. The major reasons for the increased incidence of HCC in the US are the increasing prevalence of chronic HCV infection, increased immigration from high-incidence countries in Asia and Africa, and the increase in the number of individuals with cirrhosis due to obesity-related fatty liver disease. Most HCCs are diagnosed at an advanced stage for which there is no curative option. Sorafenib, the only agent specifically approved for HCC treatment, is of limited efficacy in this setting. Therefore, an urgent need for improved HCC therapy exists. In this review, we discuss the available data on the development and use of immunotherapy for HCC, with a particular focus on recent results and novel approaches.

Keywords: Hepatocellular Carcinoma; Immunotherapy; Liver Cancer; Liver Tolerance; Spontaneous Regression.

Publication types

  • Review