The yin and yang of evasion and immune activation in HCC

J Hepatol. 2015 Jun;62(6):1420-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2015.02.038. Epub 2015 Feb 27.


Current systemic treatment options for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) are limited to sorafenib. With the recent FDA approval of the second PD1-PD-L1 pathway inhibitor, immunotherapy has gained even more interest as a potential novel treatment option for patients with HCC. This is due not only because of the failure of other treatment approaches in the past, but also because immunological mechanisms have been shown to play an important role during tumor development, growth, and treatment. Here we present a review of immunological mechanisms in the liver relevant for tumor progression and treatment. We summarize our current knowledge on immune activating and immune suppressing mechanisms during tumor initiation, development, and treatment. We try to explain the paradox of how inflammatory responses in a setting of chronic infection promote tumor development, while the primary aim of immunotherapy is to activate immunity. Finally we summarize recent advances in addition to providing an outlook for the immunotherapy of HCC.

Keywords: Hepatocellular carcinoma; Immune checkpoints; Immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adoptive Transfer
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / therapy*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cytokines / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Immunosuppression Therapy
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Liver Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Cytokines