Why Liver Cancer Rates Are Soaring in Minorities

Liver cancer risks are higher in minorities with diabetes than in whites

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) New cases of liver cancer have tripled in the last three decades. The largest increases in incidence are being seen in Latinos. Why is that?

In a new study, researchers discovered that people with diabetes were at greater risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.

This association between diabetes and liver cancer risks was strongest in minorities in the following order: Latinos, Hawaiians, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans.

"Protect your liver health by limiting alcohol consumption."

To explore the relationship between diabetes and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in minorities, V. Wendy Setiawan, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, and colleagues analyzed data on 169,479 African-American, Native Hawaiian, Japanese-American, Latino and white men and women who participated in the Multiethnic Cohort Study.

Dr. Setiawan said in a prepared statement, “People with diabetes have a two- to threefold higher risk for hepatocellular carcinoma compared with those without diabetes.”

She added, “Ethnic groups with a high prevalence of diabetes also have high hepatocellular carcinoma rates, and those with a lower prevalence of diabetes have lower hepatocellular carcinoma rates.”

Dr. Setiawan and team reviewed 15 years of data on the participants of Multiethnic Cohort Study. In the original group, there were 506 cases of HCC.

Compared to individuals who didn’t have diabetes:

  • Latinos with diabetes had a 3.3-fold higher risk of HCC.
  • Hawaiians had a 2.33-fold greater risk.
  • Japanese-Americans and African-Americans had a 2.02-fold higher risk.
  • Non-Hispanic whites had a 2.17-fold increased risk.

The study also found that minorities were more likely to develop HCC than whites.

Compared to non-Hispanic whites:

  • Latinos had a 2.77 times higher risk of developing HCC, which was the highest risk identified among all races and ethnicities.
  • Native Hawaiians had 2.48 times greater risk of having HCC.
  • African-Americans had a 2.16 times increased likelihood of HCC
  • Japanese-Americans had just over 2.07-fold increased risk of this form of liver cancer.

“We showed that diabetes is a strong risk factor for HCC in all ethnic groups and that the inter-ethnic differences in the prevalence of diabetes was consistent with the pattern of HCC incidence observed across ethnicities. Finally, we showed that eliminating diabetes could potentially reduce HCC incidence in all racial/ethnic groups, with the largest potential for reduction in Latinos,” Dr. Setiawan wrote.

Liver cancer will be diagnosed in almost 31,000 Americans this year.

Findings from this study were presented at the Sixth American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved.

This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute.

No conflicts of interest were declared.

Review Date: 
December 6, 2013
Last Updated:
December 31, 2013