Regression of Fibrosis Stage With Treatment Reduces Long-Term Risk of Liver Cancer in Patients With Hemochromatosis Caused by Mutation in HFE

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020 Jul;18(8):1851-1857. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2019.10.010. Epub 2019 Oct 14.


Background & aims: Fibrosis stage can decrease following treatment in patients with hemochromatosis caused by mutations in the homeostatic iron regulator gene (HFE), but the effects on cirrhosis are not clear. We assessed regression of severe fibrosis and the ensuing risk of liver cancer after treatment.

Methods: We performed a retrospective analysis of data from 106 patients in France or Australia who were homozygous for the C282Y mutation in HFE with F3 fibrosis (n = 40) or F4 fibrosis (n = 66) at diagnosis and from whom at least 1 liver biopsy was collected during follow up. We collected data from the time of first biopsy and during follow-up period on patient demographics, treatment, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, infection with hepatitis B or C viruses, and other diseases. The median time between first and last liver biopsy was 9.5 years (range, 3.5-15.6 years). We collected results of tests for liver function, markers of iron stores, and platelet levels. Patients were followed for a median 17.6 years (range, 9.8-24.1 years) for development of liver cancer occurrence.

Results: At last liver biopsy, 41 patients (38.6%) had fibrosis scores of F2 or less. Liver cancer occurred in 34 patients (52.3%) with F3 or F4 fibrosis at last liver biopsy vs 2 patients (4.8%) with fibrosis scores of F2 or less at last liver biopsy (P < .001). Liver cancer incidences were 32.8 per 1000 person-years (95% CI, 22.7-45.9 per 1000 person-years) in patients with F3 or F4 fibrosis and 2.3 per 1000 person-years (95% CI, 0.2-8.6 per 1000 person-years) in patients with fibrosis scores of F2 or less (P < .001). In multivariate analysis, male sex (hazard ratio [HR], 6.09; 95% CI, 1.21-30.4), age at diagnosis (HR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.09-1.25), presence of diabetes (HR, 3.07; 95% CI, 1.35-6.97), excess alcohol consumption (HR, 3.1; 95% CI, 1.47-6.35), serum level of ferritin at diagnosis (P < .01), and regression to fibrosis scores of F2 or less (HR, 0.08; 95% CI, 0.01-0.62) were significantly associated with risk of liver cancer.

Conclusions: In a retrospective analysis of patients with hemochromatosis caused by the C282Y mutation in HFE, we found that severe liver fibrosis can regress with treatment. In patients with fibrosis regression to a stage F2 or less, the long-term risk for liver cancer is significantly reduced.

Keywords: HCC; Hepatocellular Carcinoma; Iron Overload; Outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Genes, Regulator
  • Hemochromatosis Protein / genetics
  • Hemochromatosis* / complications
  • Hemochromatosis* / epidemiology
  • Hemochromatosis* / genetics
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Liver Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Retrospective Studies


  • HFE protein, human
  • Hemochromatosis Protein
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Membrane Proteins