Background: Copper and zinc are essential micronutrients and cofactors of many enzymatic reactions that may be involved in liver-cancer development. We aimed to assess pre-diagnostic circulating levels of copper, zinc and their ratio (Cu/Zn) in relation to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), intrahepatic bile duct (IHBD) and gall bladder and biliary tract (GBTC) cancers.
Methods: A nested case-control study was conducted within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Serum zinc and copper levels were measured in baseline blood samples by total reflection X-ray fluorescence in cancer cases (HCC n=106, IHDB n=34, GBTC n=96) and their matched controls (1:1). The Cu/Zn ratio, an indicator of the balance between the micronutrients, was computed. Multivariable adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals (OR; 95% CI) were used to estimate cancer risk.
Results: For HCC, the highest vs lowest tertile showed a strong inverse association for zinc (OR=0.36; 95% CI: 0.13-0.98, Ptrend=0.0123), but no association for copper (OR=1.06; 95% CI: 0.45-2.46, Ptrend=0.8878) in multivariable models. The calculated Cu/Zn ratio showed a positive association for HCC (OR=4.63; 95% CI: 1.41-15.27, Ptrend=0.0135). For IHBC and GBTC, no significant associations were observed.
Conclusions: Zinc may have a role in preventing liver-cancer development, but this finding requires further investigation in other settings.