Objective: A sex hormone imbalance has been reported in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). We investigated the serum levels of eight sex hormones in patients with alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related cirrhosis and HCC.
Methods: Luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, androstenedione, dehydroepiandrosterone and sex hormone binding globulin were assayed in 81 patients with cirrhosis (59 men, 22 women) and 97 with HCC and cirrhosis (82 men, 15 women). Hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus infection was present in 58% of patients with cirrhosis and 69% of patients with HCC. Alcohol abuse was the aetiopathogenetic factor in the remaining patients.
Results: In men, mean testosterone levels were at the lower limit of the normal range for both patients with HCC and for controls with cirrhosis. Mean estradiol levels were increased both in patients with HCC and in those with cirrhosis, but patients with alcohol-related HCC had higher estradiol levels (P = 0.0002). An index of sex hormone imbalance, the estradiol to testosterone ratio (ETR), was calculated. The ETR was significantly higher in patients with alcohol-related HCC (P = 0.0002). Multiple regression analysis showed that the ETR correlated best with patients' diagnosis (P < 0.05). In women, the ETR was significantly lower in patients with HCC than in controls with cirrhosis.
Conclusions: Men with alcohol-related HCC are characterized by an oestrogen and androgen imbalance and have a higher ETR than patients with other types of liver damage. Since sex hormones modulate hepatocellular proliferation, our data suggest that a sex hormone imbalance plays a role in hepatocarcinogenesis in patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis.