Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Patients Have Higher Rates of All Non-Liver-Related Cancers

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San Francisco – Preliminary data from a new study presented this week at The Liver Meeting® – held by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases – found that rates of malignancy occurring outside of the liver were higher in adults with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease than among adults across most types of cancers.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (commonly called NAFLD or fatty liver disease) is used to describe liver complications that arise from the buildup of excess fat in the liver. NAFLD is estimated to affect more than 80 million Americans.

Malignancy is among the most common causes of death in patients with NAFLD. To examine whether increased malignancy risk is similar across all types of cancers, researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. conducted a study to determine the rates of cancer diagnoses among NAFLD patients compared to other adults in the United States of similar age and sex.

“Population-based studies such as this one can offer important epidemiologic data regarding the important threats to the health of a community,” explains Alina M. Allen, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic, and the study’s co-author. “While it is known that individuals with NAFLD are at higher risk to develop cancers, it was not clear which type of cancer and how much higher their risk is, in reference to the general population. Such data would enable appropriate counseling and could inform screening policies.”

The researchers identified 4,782 NAFLD patients and compared them to 14,441 age- and sex-matched controls living in Olmsted County, Minn., between 1997 and 2016 using the Rochester Epidemiology Project database. They calculated age- and sex-adjusted incidence ratios of common cancers per 100,000 person-years between these two patient groups. The median age of the NAFLD patients was 54, and 54 percent were women. Median follow-up time was eight years. Overall, 788 (16 percent) of NAFLD patients and 1,752 (12 percent) of controls were diagnosed with malignancies during the study’s timespan.

Rates of malignancy were higher for NAFLD compared to controls for most types of cancers. The increased malignancy rate for NAFLD patients was highest for liver cancer, followed by stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, and uterine cancer. Overall, breast, prostate and colon cancers were the three most common malignancies among NAFLD patients.

“These data provide an important “hierarchical” overview of the top most important malignancy risks associated with NAFLD. Liver cancer had the highest increase in relative risk, and this was not a surprising finding,” says Dr. Allen. “However, the 2.5-fold higher risk of stomach and pancreatic cancer are novel data that the medical community should be aware of. Future studies should further examine this association to determine if screening methods should be implemented in this population.”

Editor’s note: This press release contains updated data that is not reflected in the published abstract but will be presented at The Liver Meeting®.

Dr. Allen will present these findings at AASLD’s press conference in Room 312-314 at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco on Saturday, November 10 from 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM. The study entitled “The Incidence of Extrahepatic Malignancies in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease(NAFLD)” will be presented on Sunday, November 11 at 8:30 AM in Room 24/25. The corresponding abstract (number 0031) can be found in the journal, HEPATOLOGY.