Dr. Abraham Cantarow, 78, a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and a retired cancer specialist at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, died of cancer Sept. 1 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Dr. Cantarow, who specialized in liver cancer research, was associated with Thomas Jefferson University for 46 years. He earned his medical degree and served as a resident physician there before joining the medical facility in about 1930. He was professor and chairman of the biochemistry department from 1945 until his retirement in 1966.

He then joined the National Cancer Institute, where he was instrumental in establishing a program for chemical carcinogenesis. He was chief of program planning for extramural activities and chief of program analysis and formulation before being named a special consultant in 1975. He retired from the Institute in April.

Dr. Cantarow's research activities included pioneering work in liver metabolism and cancer endocrine function and the metabolic role of calcium, as well as investigation of the role of hormones in carcinogenesis and tumor growth.

He was the author of five textbooks and about 200 scientific papers in his field.

He was born in Hartford, Conn.

His professional memberships included the American Endocrinological Society, the American Physiological Society and the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.

His wife, Elizabeth Stern Cantarow, died in 1978. After retiring from the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Cantarow made his residence in Philadelphia.

Survivors include a daughter, Ellen Cantarow of Cambridge, Mass.; a sister, Rose Tulin of Hallandale, Fla.; and a brother, Peter, of Hartford.