National Foundation for Cancer Research

Investigating the effects of co-morbidities on liver cancer risk

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection is one of the world’s leading causes of infection-related death and levels are increasing. A large proportion viral of hepatitis-associated deaths are due to liver cancer and cirrhosis. However, because not everyone with chronic HBV will develop liver cancer, more needs to be understood about the additional risk factors for liver cancer in people with chronic HBV infection. This will allow improved risk prediction for liver cancer, which, in addition to more sensitive diagnostic technologies, is an important part of the strategy for monitoring, to support earlier liver cancer detection and improved survival.

In this review published in the Journal of Viral Hepatitis, Cori Campbell and colleagues from Dr Philippa Matthews’ and Professor Ellie Barnes’ groups (Nuffield Department of Medicine) performed a literature review and meta-analysis to look for evidence of risk factors linked to HBV-associated liver cancer. Given the increasing prevalence of co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, and metabolic risk factors such as obesity and dyslipidaemia (abnormal lipid blood profiles), the focus of this review was placed on these risk factors.

The researchers identified 40 studies that showed an association between liver cancer risk in the presence of chronic HBV infection and diabetes, high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia and obesity. Out of all these associated co-morbidities, only diabetes had enough published studies on it to be able to perform further analysis.

The risk of liver cancer was over 25% higher in individuals with chronic HBV infection and diabetes compared to those without diabetes, although there was some variation between the effect of diabetes seen in different studies. This suggests that it may be worth increasing liver cancer screening in individuals with both chronic HBV infection and diabetes. Interestingly, in studies where metformin was given as a treatment for diabetes, the association of diabetes with risk of liver cancer was weakened, warranting further investigation.

The full review article can be accessed on the Journal of Viral Hepatitis website.

For more information about liver cancer early detection research in Oxford, see the liver cancer research showcase.