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Type 2 Diabetes Might Raise Risk of Liver Cancer

But odds for malignancy are low; study found stronger connection for some minorities

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People with type 2 diabetes often develop a condition called "fatty liver," D'Olimpio said. In these cases, the liver has trouble handling the abundance of fat in its cells and gradually becomes inflamed. That situation can trigger a cascade of problems, including cirrhosis (a chronic disease of the liver), fibrosis (thickening and scaring of tissue) and, ultimately, cancer, he said.

D'Olimpio said fatty liver disease is the No. 1 cause of HCC. "[Type 2] diabetics have twice the chance of having a fatty liver, at least," he said. "If you're an African-American or Latino, that may make you even more susceptible."

People with type 1 diabetes, however, do not have an increased risk of liver cancer, he said.

The new research is scheduled for presentation Sunday at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Atlanta. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study analyzed data collected between 1993 and 1996 from nearly 170,000 black, Native Hawaiian, Japanese-American, Latino and white adults. Researchers followed up with the participants about 16 years after they had answered a comprehensive health questionnaire. Over that time, about 500 participants had developed liver cancer.

Information about risk factors -- such as age, whether they had type 2 diabetes, alcohol intake, body-mass index (a measure of body fat) and cigarette smoking -- was analyzed, and blood tests for hepatitis B and hepatitis C were performed on about 700 of the participants, with and without liver cancer.

Whether people smoked or drank alcohol did not appear to change the relationship between having diabetes and getting liver cancer, the researchers said.

Although the study found an association between having type 2 diabetes and developing liver cancer, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

North Shore's Bernstein urged caution in interpreting the results. "It's a single study that talks about a large number of people with a common disease like diabetes and links it to liver cancer," he said. "We have a lot more learning to do and more work is needed to prove an association and define what the risk really is."

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