The association between metabolic risk factors, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and the incidence of liver cancer: a nationwide population-based cohort study

Hepatol Int. 2022 Aug;16(4):807-816. doi: 10.1007/s12072-021-10281-9. Epub 2022 Jan 22.


Background and aims: Liver cancer is a detrimental complication in patients with chronic viral hepatitis and alcoholic or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). However, metabolic risk factors underlying NAFLD usually cause substantial differences in their clinical outcomes. Recently, several studies have used a novel definition of metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) to reassess patients with NAFLD and pointed out the importance of metabolic risk factors. Since patients with NAFLD, MAFLD, or metabolic syndrome (MetS) have different burden of metabolic risk factors, it is crucial to decipher the risk of developing hepatic complications in these populations.

Methods: Through a longitudinal nationwide cohort study, the risk of liver cancer was investigated in patients with MetS alone, NAFLD alone, overlap NAFLD/MAFLD, and coexisting MetS and NAFLD. The general characteristics, comorbidities, and incidence of liver cancer were also compared.

Results: Intriguingly, patients diagnosed with MetS alone did not have a significant risk of developing HCC compared to control individuals, while patients with NAFLD alone, NAFLD/MAFLD, and coexisting NAFLD and MetS exhibited 6.08-, 5.81-, and 15.33-fold risks of developing HCC, respectively. Apart from metabolic risk factors, renal function status and liver cirrhosis were the independent risk factors for the development of HCC among these groups.

Conclusion: Our data emphasize that metabolic dysfunction has a significant impact on hepatocarcinogenesis in patients with NAFLD. Moreover, coexisting multiple metabolic risk factors would dampen the risk of developing HCC in patients with NAFLD. Closely tracing HCC formation through laboratory examination or imaging is crucial in these patients.

Keywords: Cirrhosis of liver; Clinical research; Epidemiology; Hepatocellular carcinoma; Metabolic syndrome; National Health Insurance Research Database; Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / complications
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular* / etiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Neoplasms* / complications
  • Liver Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors