Risk of liver and other types of cancer in patients with cirrhosis: A nationwide cohort study in Denmark



Cancer risk in patients with cirrhosis could be modified by factors such as changes in hormonal levels, impaired metabolism of carcinogens, or alteration of immunological status. We investigated the risk of liver and various forms of cancer in patients with cirrhosis in a follow-up study. We identified 11,605 1-year survivors of cirrhosis from the files of the Danish National Registry of Patients (NRP) from 1977 to 1989. Occurrence of cancer through 1993 was determined by linkage to the Danish Cancer Registry. For comparison, the expected number of cancer cases was estimated from national age-, sex-, and site-specific incidence rates. Overall, 1,447 cancers were diagnosed among the study subjects, as compared with 708.1 expected, to yield a standardized incidence ratio (SIR) of 2.0 (95% CI: 1.9 to 2.2). In all diagnostic subgroups of cirrhosis, the risk of primary liver cancer, mainly hepatocellular carcinoma, was markedly elevated, with 245 observed cases and an overall 36-fold elevated risk (59.9-fold elevated for hepatocellular carcinoma and 10-fold for cholangiocarcinoma). Substantial and persistent excesses during follow-up were seen for all types of cancer associated with tobacco and alcohol habits (cancer of the lung, larynx, buccal cavity, pharynx, pancreas, urinary bladder, and kidney), while moderate excesses were seen for cancers of the colon and breast. The latter, however, were not complemented by any decrease in the risk of prostate cancer (SIR: 1.0; 95% CI: 0.7 to 1.3). A slightly increased risk was seen for testis cancer, but disappeared after 10 years. We found evidence of an increased risk for liver and several extrahepatic cancers in patients with cirrhosis. Although part of this increase is likely attributable to alcohol and tobacco consumption, our study opens up the possibility that cirrhosis plays a role in the carcinogenesis of types of cancer other than liver cancer.