Hepatocellular carcinoma: epidemiology and risk factors

J Hepatocell Carcinoma. 2014 Aug 13;1:115-25. doi: 10.2147/JHC.S44381. eCollection 2014.


Hepatocellular carcinoma is one of the major malignant tumors in the world today. The number of new cases of the tumor increases year by year, and hepatocellular carcinoma almost always runs a fulminant course and carries an especially grave prognosis. It has a low resectability rate and a high recurrence rate after surgical intervention, and responds poorly to anticancer drugs and radiotherapy. Hepatocellular carcinoma does not have a uniform geographical distribution: rather, very high incidences occur in Eastern and Southeastern Asia and in sub-Saharan Black Africans. In these regions and populations, the tumor shows a distinct shift in age distribution toward the younger ages, seen to greatest extent in sub-Saharan Black Africans. In all populations, males are more commonly affected. The most common risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma in resource-poor populations with a high incidence of the tumor are chronic hepatitis B virus infection and dietary exposure to the fungal hepatocarcinogen aflatoxin B1. These two causative agents act either singly or synergistically. Both the viral infection and exposure to the fungus occur from early childhood, and the tumor typically presents at an early age. Chronic hepatitis C virus infection is an important cause of hepatocellular carcinoma in resource-rich countries with a low incidence of the tumor. The infection is acquired in adulthood and hepatocellular carcinoma occurs later than it does with hepatitis B virus-induced tumors. In recent years, obesity and the metabolic syndrome have increased markedly in incidence and importance as a cause of hepatocellular carcinoma in some resource-rich regions. Chronic alcohol abuse remains an important risk factor for malignant transformation of hepatocytes, frequently in association with alcohol-induced cirrhosis. Excessive iron accumulation in hereditary hemochromatosis and dietary iron overload in the Black African population and membranous obstruction of the inferior cava cause the tumor in a few countries.

Keywords: epidemiology; hepatocellular carcinoma; risk factors.

Publication types

  • Review