Link Between Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Certain Cancers

December 27, 2017
Lisa Schulmeister, MN, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a risk factor for cancer, according to a recent report about a 7.5-year Korean study.

People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are at a greater risk of developing cancer that those who don't have it, according to a study published in the Journal of Hepatology.

Researchers in Korea investigated Korean cancer incidence rates among people with NAFLD since there has been insufficient data on whether there is an association between the two. Ultrasonography was used to diagnose NAFLD in the absence of known liver disease, including alcohol-related and viral hepatitis.

Of 25,947 people studied, 8721 (33.6%) had NAFLD. During the follow-up that averaged 7.5 years, the cancer incidence rate of the NAFLD group was significantly higher than that of the non-NAFLD group. NAFLD was associated with the development of 3 cancers: hepatocellular carcinoma, colorectal cancer in men, and breast cancer in women. Although the study followed Korean patients, the large number of people studied suggests that NAFLD may be prevalent in other countries, too.

Since NAFLD is affected by the amount of fat in the liver, people who are overweight or obese, have diabetes, or high blood pressure often are at risk. The number of these people worldwide is growing; consequently, the incidence of NAFLD may rise. The American Liver Foundation cites a 25% incidence of NAFLD among Americans, so clinicians in the United States need to be aware of the association between NAFLD and cancer, and screen people at high risk.