(NaturalNews) Rarely found early, liver cancer has a poor prognosis because there are no highly effective treatments. But a new study has raised hope that an Asian herb could offer a natural, side effect-free way to prevent the deadly malignancy.Research recently published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology (volume 13, issue 48) shows the aqueous leaf extract (ALE) of a plant that grows in India, A. ilicifolius, prevents cancer-related DNA alterations and chromosomal damage in mice specifically bred to develop liver tumors. In addition, the animals lived far longer than they were expected to survive.Prof. Malay Chatterjee of Jadavpur University, who headed the research, says his findings suggest A. ilicifolius could be used to prevent liver malignancies in people because the plant's ALE appears to be a chemoprotector - a substance that protects the body from the effect of chemicals and diseases like cancer. What's more, the herb appears to have no toxicity.Known in India by the traditional name "Harkach Kanta", A. ilicifolius grows widely throughout the mangroves of that country, including in the Sunderbans in West Bengal and along the west coast. It also flourishes in other Asian countries including Singhal, Burma, China and Thailand.Prof. Chatterjee points out additional studies are needed to isolate and characterize the specific anti-cancer mechanisms of the herb. If successful, he says, "... we will have the beginning of a new chemoprevention program with herbal supplements that could have the broadest implications for the well-being of society."A toxic-free herb found to prevent liver cancer would be a major breakthrough in the fight against liver cancer, which is the fifth most common cancer in the world. The disease is on the rise in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 19,160 new cases of liver cancer and bile duct cancer were diagnosed in the United States last year and approximately 17,000 Americans died of liver malignancies in 2007.What causes liver cancer? While there's no definitive answer so far, researchers have identified several risk factors including a chronic liver infection such as hepatitis, cirrhosis (a disease that develops when liver cells are damaged by alcohol, drugs and other chemicals, and certain viruses), and exposure to the toxic mold aflatoxin which sometimes forms on corn, peanuts and other nuts. The cancer is most common in those 60 and over and men are twice as likely as women to develop liver tumors. A family history of the disease also increases the risk.