Epidemiological characteristics and risk factors of hepatocellular carcinoma

J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1997 Oct;12(9-10):S294-308. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.1997.tb00513.x.


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the major cancers in the world. There is a striking variation in HCC incidence rates between various countries, with a highest-to-lowest ratio of 112.5 for males and 54.7 for females. The high-risk populations are clustered in sub-Saharan Africa and eastern Asia. The male-to-female ratio for HCC ranges from < 1 to 6.4 and mostly from 2 to 4. There exist significant variations in the incidence of HCC among different ethnic groups living in the same area and among migrants of the same ethnic groups living in different areas. The age curves of HCC are significantly different in various countries, suggesting variability in exposure to risk factors. Chronic carriers of hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV and HCV, respectively) have an increased risk of HCC. The relative and attributable HCC risk of HBV and HCV carrier status varies in different countries. There exists a synergistic interaction on HCC between the two viruses. Aflatoxin exposure, cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, low vegetable intake, inorganic arsenic ingestion, radioactive thorium dioxide exposure, iron overload and the use of oral contraceptives and anabolic steroids have been documented as HCC risk factors. Recent molecular epidemiological studies have shown that low serum retinol levels as well as elevated serum levels of testosterone, neu oncoprotein and aflatoxin B1-albumin adduct are associated with an increased HCC risk. There is a synergistic interaction on HCC between chronic HBV infection and aflatoxin exposure. Familial aggregation of HCC exists and a major susceptibility gene of HCC has been hypothesized. Patients of some genetic diseases are at an increased risk of HCC. The genetic polymorphisms of cytochrome P450 2E1 and 2D6 and arylamine N-acetyltransferase 2 are associated with the development of HCC. A dose-response relationship between aflatoxin exposure and HCC has been observed among chronic HBV carriers who have null genotypes of glutathione S-transferase M1 or T1, but not among those who have non-null genotypes. Human hepatocarcinogenesis is a multistage process with the involvement of a multifactorial aetiology. Gene-environment interactions are involved in the development of HCC in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / epidemiology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / etiology*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Risk Factors