Liver cancer most commonly develops in patients with chronic liver disease, the etiology of which includes viral hepatitis (B and C), alcohol, obesity, dietary carcinogens, and so forth. The current treatment modalities, including surgical resection and liver transplantation, have been found far from effective. Hence, there is an obvious critical need to develop alternative strategies for the treatment of it. In this review, we discuss the formation process and therapeutic targets of liver cancer. Currently, targeted therapy is limited to sorafenib, lenvatinib, regorafenib, ramucirumab and cabozantinib which leads to a survival benefit in patients, but on the other hand is hampered by the occurrence of drug resistance. Pleasingly and importantly, there are multiple natural products undergoing clinical evaluation in liver cancer, such as polyphenols like icaritin, resveratrol, and silybin, saponins including ginsenoside Rg3 and glycyrrhizinate, alkaloid containing irinotecan and berberine and inorganic compound arsenic trioxide at present. Preclinical and clinical studies have shown that these compounds inhibit liver cancer formation owing to the influence on the anti-viral, anti-inflammation, anti-oxidant, anti-angiogenesis and anti-metastasis activity. Furthermore, a series of small molecule derivatives inspired by the aforementioned compounds are designed and synthesized according to structure-activity relationship studies. Drug combination and novel type of drug-targeted delivery system thereof have been well developed. This article is ended by a perspective remark of futuristic development of natural product-based therapeutic regimen for liver cancer treatment. We expect that this review is an account for current status of natural products as promising anti-liver cancer treatments and should contribute to its understanding.
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