Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma: a weighty connection

Hepatology. 2010 May;51(5):1820-32. doi: 10.1002/hep.23594.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a common and deadly malignancy that is increasing in incidence in developed countries. The emergence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) accounts for about half of this increase in HCC, although the etiology of HCC in 15%-50% of new HCC cases remains unclear. The most common form of chronic liver disease in developed countries is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which encompasses a broad spectrum of histopathology. The prevalence of NAFLD, including the more aggressive nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), is increasing with the growing epidemics of diabetes and obesity. NASH can progress to cirrhosis and its related complications. Growing evidence suggests that NASH accounts for a large proportion of idiopathic or cryptogenic cirrhosis, which is associated with the typical risk factors for NASH. HCC is a rare, although important complication of NAFLD. Diabetes and obesity have been established as independent risk factors for the development of HCC. New evidence also suggests that hepatic iron deposition increases the risk of HCC in NASH-derived cirrhosis. Multiple case reports and case reviews of HCC in the setting of NASH support the associations of diabetes and obesity with the risk of HCC, as well as suggest age and advanced fibrosis as significant risks. Insulin resistance and its subsequent inflammatory cascade that is associated with the development of NASH appear to play a significant role in the carcinogenesis of HCC. The complications of NASH, including cirrhosis and HCC, are expected to increase with the growing epidemic of diabetes and obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / etiology*
  • Diabetes Complications*
  • Fatty Liver / complications*
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / complications
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver Cirrhosis / etiology
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Risk Factors


  • Iron