Hepatic steatosis is associated with increased frequency of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis




Chronic hepatitis C can result in fatty changes in the liver. Previous studies have suggested that hepatic steatosis is a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The authors sought to determine whether hepatic steatosis is associated with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in a cohort of patients with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis.


The authors retrospectively identified 94 consecutive patients with hepatitis C cirrhosis who underwent liver transplantation from 1992 to 2005 and had pathology available for review. Of these, 32 had evidence of HCC, and 62 had no HCC on explant histology. All explant specimens were graded again for steatosis by a single, blinded pathologist. Steatosis, age, sex, body mass index, HCV RNA, HCV genotype, Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score, chronic alcohol use, and diabetes were examined in univariate and multivariate analyses for association with HCC.


In total, 69% of patients in the HCC group and 50% of patients in the control group had evidence of steatosis (1+) on histology. Odds ratios for the development of HCC for each grade of steatosis compared with grade 0 were as follows: grade 1 (1.61 [0.6–4.3]), grade 2 (3.68 [1.1–12.8]), and grade 3 or 4 (8.02 [0.6–108.3]) (P = .03 for the trend). In univariate analysis, there was a significant association between increasing steatosis grade (P = .03), older age (56 years vs 49 years; P < .02), higher aspartate aminotransferase (122.5 U/L vs 91.5 U/L; P = .005), higher alanine aminotransferase (95.8 U/L vs 57.2 U/L; P = .002), higher alpha-fetoprotein (113.5 ng/mL vs 17.8 ng/mL; P < .001), lower median HCV RNA (239,000 IU/mL vs 496,500 IU/mL; P = .02), higher biologic MELD score (21.8 vs 20.3; P = .03), and risk of HCC. In multivariate analysis, age (P = .02), AFP (P = .007), and steatosis (P = .045) were significantly associated with HCC.


In patients with HCV-related cirrhosis, the presence of hepatic steatosis is independently associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. These findings suggest that steatosis poses an additional risk for HCC and that increased vigilance should be practiced in surveillance of persons with both HCV and steatosis. Cancer 2007. © 2007 American Cancer Society.