The endless sources of hepatocellular carcinoma heterogeneity

Marina Barcena-Varela, Amaia Lujambio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) represents a global health problem. The incidence keeps increasing and current therapeutic options confer limited benefits to the patients. Tumor heterogeneity plays a central role in this context, limiting the availability of predictive biomarkers and complicating the criteria used to choose the most suitable therapeutic option. HCC heterogeneity occurs at different levels: within the population (inter-patient heterogeneity) and within tumors from the same patient (intra-patient and intra-tumor heterogeneity). Experts in the field have made many efforts to classify the patients based on clinicopathological characteristics and molecular signatures; however, there is still much work ahead to be able to integrate the extra-tumor heterogeneity that emerges from the complexity of the tumor microenvironment, which plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of the disease and therapy responses. In this review, we summarize tumor intrinsic and extrinsic sources of heterogeneity of the most common etiologies of HCC and summarize the most recent discoveries regarding the evolutionary trajectory of liver cancer cells and the influence of tumor-extrinsic factors such as the microbiome and the host immune system. We further highlight the potential of novel high-throughput methodologies to contribute to a better understanding of this devastating disease and to the improvement of the clinical management of patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2621
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • Heterogeneity
  • Microenvironment
  • Molecular mechanisms
  • Risk factors


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