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Immunotherapy in hepatocellular carcinoma: the complex interface between inflammation, fibrosis, and the immune response


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide and confers a poor prognosis. Beyond standard systemic therapy with multikinase inhibitors, recent studies demonstrate the potential for robust and durable responses from immune checkpoint inhibition in subsets of HCC patients across disease etiologies. The majority of HCC arises in the context of chronic inflammation and from within a fibrotic liver, with many cases associated with hepatitis virus infections, toxins, and fatty liver disease. Many patients also have concomitant cirrhosis which is associated with both local and systemic immune deficiency. Furthermore, the liver is an immunologic organ in itself, which may enhance or suppress the immune response to cancer arising within it. Here, we explore the immunobiology of the liver from its native state to chronic inflammation, fibrosis, cirrhosis and then to cancer, and summarize how this unique microenvironment may affect the response to immunotherapy.

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