Source VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a common cancer worldwide that primarily develops in cirrhosis resulting from chronic infection by hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus, alcoholic injury, and to a lesser extent from genetically determined disorders such as hemochromatosis. HCC has recently been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the hepatic manifestation of obesity and related metabolic disorders such as diabetes. This association is alarming due to the globally high prevalence of these conditions and may contribute to the rising incidence of HCC witnessed in many industrialized countries. There is also evidence that NAFLD acts synergistically with other risk factors of HCC such as chronic hepatitis C and alcoholic liver injury. Moreover, HCC may complicate noncirrhotic NAFLD with mild or absent fibrosis, greatly expanding the population potentially at higher risk. Major systemic and liver-specific molecular mechanisms involved include insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, increased TNF signaling pathways, and alterations in cellular lipid metabolism. These provide new targets for the prevention, early recognition, and effective treatment of HCC associated with NAFLD. Indeed, both metformin and PPAR gamma agonists have been associated with lower risk and improved prognosis of HCC. This review summarizes current evidence as it pertains to the epidemiology, pathogenesis, and prevention of NAFLD-associated HCC.