MUSC Hollings Cancer Center

Hollings Leads Liver Cancer Study

Contact: Vicky Agnew
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center
Phone: 843-792-0376
Mobile: 843-697-6208

Hollings Cancer Center to Lead National Study for Advanced Liver Cancer Patients

Hard-to-Treat Hepatocellular Carcinoma a Global Killer Linked to Hepatitis C

Charleston, SC (April 15, 2009) — The Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) will lead a national, multi-center clinical trial studying the effects of combining powerful drugs in patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC), or cancer originating in the liver.

Linked to hepatitis C, a blood born virus that damages the liver, HCC is difficult to treat because it is most often detected in advanced stages. As a result, only 10-20 percent of the tumors can be removed with surgery. Patients with inoperable cases typically die within six months.

The new randomized Phase II clinical trial will study the combination of erlotinib and bevacizumab that target tumor blood vessels and growth factors, compared to sorafenib which attacks tumor growth signals. This will be done in the first-line treatment of patients with advanced HCC.

This trial follows a study that found the combination of erlotinib and bevacizumab extended patients’ lives on average of 15 months. A separate study found sorafenib extended patients’ lives  10.7 months, according to Melanie Thomas, MD, Hollings Cancer Center Associate Director for Clinical Trials, the lead investigator for both erlotinib and bevacizumab trials.

“Globally, HCC is a very common cancer due to the link with hepatitis B, which is widespread in Asia and Africa. HCC is relatively rare in the U.S. but is increasing rapidly because of the link to hepatitis C, which is the most common blood-borne infection in the US.” Thomas said. “The lack of obvious symptoms signaling hepatitis C or HCC means these tumors have plenty of time to grow. It may not be long before HCC is no longer considered rare.”

Facts about hepatitis C and HCC:

  • Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV.
  • Chronic hepatitis C is a serious condition that damages the liver and can lead to potentially fatal liver diseases such as cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
  • More than four million Americans have been infected with hepatitis C, and nearly 40,000 new cases are found each year; it is responsible for 8,000-10,000 deaths annually.
  • HCV is transmitted mainly by sharing dirty needles; and prior to 1992, through blood transfusions.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma is not the same as metastatic liver cancer, which starts in another organ (breast or colon) and spreads to the liver.
  • Patients with hepatitis B or C are at risk for liver cancer, even if they do not have cirrhosis. Other causes of liver cancer are heavy alcohol use and “fatty” liver due to obesity.
  • HCC is very difficult to treat because the liver is “resistant” to most chemotherapy drugs, and most patients have liver damage in addition to HCC.

“MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is fortunate to be taking the lead in this important clinical trial,” Thomas said. “It is critical that clinical trials for this deadly cancer be available for patients in South Carolina and the southeast U.S.”

Other institutions participating in the Phase II study are: University if Miami, Wake Forest University-Bowman Gray School of Medicine, University of Southern California, and The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

About the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center
Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina is a National Cancer Institute designated cancer center. It offers state-of-the-art diagnostic capabilities, therapies and surgical techniques and has multidisciplinary clinics that involve surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation therapists, radiologists, pathologists, psychologists and many other specialists seeing patients under one roof.  Multidisciplinary care is provided in disease specific clinics such as thoracic, breast, head and neck, genitourinary, gastrointestinal, hematological, and pediatric cancers. Hollings Cancer Center is the largest academic-based cancer program in South Carolina and has more than $35 million in cancer research funding. More than 1,000 people are currently participating on a cancer clinical trial at HCC. To expand patient access to clinical trials, MUSC Hollings Cancer Center has established the Clinical Trials Network (CTN). Partnering with nine cancer centers in S.C., the CTN broadens the reach of new research that may one day be the new standards of care.  For more information, please visit

About MUSC
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including approximately 2,000 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.6 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic or clinical services, visit or




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