Sex and Liver Cancer

Liver cancer risks tied to Foxa proteins

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Blame it on the hormones. Male and female hormones are at the root of prostate cancer and breast cancer. They may also be the reason significantly more men than women develop liver cancer.

The gender differences in the prevalence of liver cancer have to do with which proteins the sex hormones are in bed with. These proteins are known as Foxa 1 and 2.

"Talk to you doctor about screenings if cancer runs in your family."

Researchers at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, led by Professor of Genetics, Klaus Kaestner, Ph.D, identified the proteins that seem to be the reason behind the huge gender difference in the incidence of liver cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 21,730 men will be diagnosed with liver cancer this year, compared to 7,350 women.

Past experiments have shown that male mice develop many tumors when they're given a liver carcinogen, but females very few. When the researchers made mouse models that lacked Foxa genes, just the opposite occurred.

After analyzing the genes in the cancer cells, investigators learned that the actions of the male and female hormones in the liver depend on the Foxa genes.

What does this mean for humans? To find out, researchers looked for genetic markers called SNPs. These guys play and interact with Foxa proteins.

Knowing that the estrogen receptor helps to protect women from liver cancer, researchers found that women with the disease have SNPs with specific places where the Foxa proteins hook up.

When the SNPs are screwed up, they not only abolish the Foxa proteins, but also the guardian estrogen receptor. At this point, women are more prone to liver cancer.

More study - as usual - is needed to see if this behavior holds up in men. If so, this might lead to new tests which could predict the genetic risk of liver cancer.

This study, supported with funds from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, appeared in January, 2012 issue of the journal Cell.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 19, 2012
Last Updated:
January 19, 2012