Background: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of primary liver cancer, is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in human. Alcohol is a known risk factor for HCC. However it is still unclear whether and how alcohol enhances the progression and metastasis of existing HCC.
Methods and results: We first retrospectively investigated 52 HCC patients (24 alcohol-drinkers and 28 non-drinkers), and found a positive correlation between alcohol consumption and advanced Tumor-Node-Metastasis (TNM) stages, higher vessel invasion and poorer prognosis. In vitro and in vivo experiments further indicated that alcohol promoted the progression and migration/invasion of HCC. Specifically, in a 3-D tumor/endothelial co-culture system, we found that alcohol enhanced the migration/invasion of HepG2 cells and increased tumor angiogenesis. Consistently, higher expression of VEGF, MCP-1 and NF-κB was observed in HCC tissues of alcohol-drinkers. Alcohol induced the accumulation of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the activation of NF-κB signaling in HepG2 cells. Conversely, blockage of alcohol-mediated ROS accumulation and NF-κB signaling inhibited alcohol-induced expression of VEGF and MCP-1, the tumor growth, angiogenesis and metastasis.
Conclusion: This study suggested that chronic moderate alcohol consumption may promote the progression and metastasis of HCC; the oncogenic effect may be at least partially mediated by the ROS accumulation and NF-ĸB-dependent VEGF and MCP-1 up-regulation.