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Independent of Cirrhosis, Hepatocellular Carcinoma Risk Is Increased with Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome


Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common primary liver malignancy, commonly a sequelae of hepatitis C infection, but can complicate cirrhosis of any cause. Whether metabolic syndrome and its components, type II diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma independent of cirrhosis is unknown.


A retrospective cohort study was conducted using the MarketScan insurance claims database from 2008-2012. Individuals with hepatocellular carcinoma aged 19-64 years and age and sex-matched controls were included. Multivariate analysis of hepatocellular carcinoma risk factors was performed.


Hepatitis C (odds ratio [OR] 2.102) was the largest risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma. Other independent risk factors were type II diabetes (OR 1.353) and hypertension (OR 1.229). Hyperlipidemia was protective against hepatocellular carcinoma (OR 0.885). The largest risk increase occurred with hypertension with type II diabetes and hepatitis C (OR 4.580), although hypertension and type II diabetes without hepatitis C still incurred additional risk (OR 3.399). Type II diabetes and hyperlipidemia had a similar risk if hepatitis C was present (OR 2.319) or not (OR 2.395). Metformin (OR 0.706) and cholesterol medications (OR 0.645) were protective in diabetics. Insulin (OR 1.640) increased the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma compared with the general type II diabetes population.


In the absence of cirrhosis, type II diabetes and hypertension were independent risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma. Hyperlipidemia and medical management of type II diabetes with metformin and cholesterol medication appeared to reduce the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma. In contrast, insulin was associated with a higher risk of hepatocellular carcinoma.

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-Allison J. Kasmari, MD, Amy Welch, MD, MSN, MSc, Guodong Liu, PhD, Doug Leslie, PhD, Thomas McGarrity, MD, Thomas Riley, MD

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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