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Demographic Factors Increasing Risk of Liver Cancer Development in Patients With Fatty Liver Disease

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Key Points

  • Those over age 60 are almost 4 times more at risk of developing liver cancer, whereas Hispanics and diabetics are nearly 2 times more at risk.
  • While high cholesterol levels were associated with having cancer, being diagnosed with high cholesterol and likely being treated for it with medication may lower the chance of developing liver cancer.

A new study published by Zarrinpar et al in Liver International has found that elderly, diabetic, and Hispanic patients with steatohepatitis—fatty liver disease—may have a higher risk of developing liver cancer.

Ali Zarrinpar, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, and colleagues aimed to identify factors that put patients with fatty liver disease at a greater risk of developing cancer by studying the differences between alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease as well as demographic differences among patients. The team looked at a University of California, Los Angeles, clinical database of 317 patients, 80 of whom had cancer, who received liver transplants for fatty liver disease over a 10-year period.

Although fatty liver disease itself does not have any symptoms, it can lead to cirrhosis, Dr. Zarrinpar said. Cirrhosis can cause many different symptoms of liver failure, such as weakness, fatigue, swelling in the abdomen or legs, or jaundice. Cirrhosis can also increase the risk of developing liver cancer.

Study Findings

The findings showed alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease—distinguished by the patient’s alcohol consumption—share the same cancer risk factors, suggesting demographic differences may be what puts some patients more at risk of developing liver cancer. The study found that Hispanic patients, as well as older and diabetic patients, are more likely to develop liver cancer. Those over the age of 60 are almost 4 times more at risk, whereas Hispanics and diabetics are nearly 2 times more at risk.

“The overall findings are that with either form of fatty liver disease, older, diabetic, and Hispanic patients are more likely to have liver cancer,” said Dr. Zarrinpar. “I think it’s very important that the Hispanic population really be aware that they not only have an increased risk of having fatty liver disease, but also an additional risk of developing cancer within that fatty liver disease.”

He added, “The idea is that these patients need to have more close monitoring to make sure they don’t have cancer in their liver or to catch it earlier so that it can be treated.”

The study also found that while high cholesterol levels were associated with having cancer, being diagnosed with high cholesterol and likely being treated for it with medication may lower the chance of developing liver cancer. The team will study whether cholesterol medications could reduce cancer risk by using the OneFlorida database, a statewide clinical research network and database.

Disclosure: The study authors' full disclosures can be found at onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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