Liver carcinogenesis is a complex and multi-factorial process, in which both environmental and genetic features interfere and contribute to malignant transformation. Patients with cirrhosis are particularly exposed and justify periodical screenings in order to detect the early development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The risk of HCC is, however, not identical from one patient to another. The identification of host factors that may also play an important role in HCC development may improve our understanding of the implications of the various biological pathways involved in liver carcinogenesis; such progress may as well help refine the selection of patients who could benefit from specific preventative measures or could be given adapted screening policies. Numerous candidate-gene studies have reported associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the presence of HCC. Some of these publications unfortunately suffer from major methodological drawbacks because of their case-control, retrospective and monocentric aspect. Prospective cohort studies conducted in large homogeneous populations and comprising a sufficient number of events during follow-up may overcome these pitfalls, but require a long time to be conducted and are still scarce. More recently, the first Genome Wide Association studies (GWAs) have enabled the identification of unsuspected loci that may be involved in various steps implicated in liver tumourigenesis. Taken together, these studies highlight variants that modulate oxidative stress, iron metabolism, inflammatory and immune responses, DNA repair mechanisms or systems involved in cell-cycle regulation as genetic traits susceptible to modify the natural history of cirrhotic patients and partly explain the observed differences in the risk of HCC occurrence. However, large genetic epidemiology studies in the field of cancer diseases have suggested the limited ability of polymorphic traits, alone, to refine individual prognosis. The integration of various panels of genes into clinical scores may in the near future define a "genomic risk prediction" specific to liver cancer developed in cirrhotic patients.
Copyright © 2012 European Association for the Study of the Liver. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.