Cancer most frequently spreads to the liver. Here’s why.

When cancer spreads to another organ, it most commonly moves to the liver, and now researchers at the Abramson Cancer Center say they know why.

A new study, published in Nature, shows hepatocytes—the chief functional cells of the liver—are at the center of a chain reaction that makes it particularly susceptible to cancer cells. These hepatocytes respond to inflammation by activating a protein called STAT3, which in turn increases their production of other proteins called SAA, which then remodel the liver and create the “soil” needed for cancer cells to “seed.” The researchers show that stopping this process by using antibodies that block IL-6—the inflammatory signal that drives this chain reaction—can limit the potential of cancer to spread to the liver.

“The seed-and-soil hypothesis is well-recognized, but our research now shows that hepatocytes are the major orchestrators of this process,” says senior author Gregory L. Beatty, an assistant professor of hematology-oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine. Jae W. Lee, an MD/Ph.D. candidate in Beatty’s laboratory, is the lead author.

“The liver is an important sensor in the body,” Lee says. “We show that hepatocytes sense inflammation and respond in a structured way that cancer uses to help it spread.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.