Experimental Medicine, UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin 7, Ireland.
Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world with an estimated over half a million new cases diagnosed every year. Due to the difficulty in early diagnosis and lack of treatment options, the prevalence of liver cancer continues to climb with a 5-year survival rate of between 6% and 11%. Coinciding with the rise of liver cancer, the prevalence of obesity has rapidly increased over the past two decades. Evidence from epidemiological studies demonstrates a higher risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in obese individuals. Obesity is recognised as a low-grade inflammatory disease, this is of particular relevance as inflammation has been proposed as the seventh hallmark of cancer development with abdominal visceral adiposity considered as an important source of pro-inflammatory stimuli. Emerging evidence points towards the direct role of visceral adipose tissue rather than generalised body fat in carcinogenesis. Cytokines such as IL-6 and TNF-α secreted from visceral adipose tissue have been demonstrated to induce a chronic inflammatory condition predisposing the liver to a protumourigenic milieu. This review focuses on excess visceral adiposity rather than simple obesity; particularly adipokines and their implications for chronic inflammation, lipid accumulation, insulin resistance, Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) stress and angiogenesis. Evidence of molecular signalling pathways that may give rise to the onset and progression of HCC in this context are depicted. Delineation of the pro-inflammatory role of visceral adiposity in liver cancer and its targeting will provide better rational and therapeutic approaches for HCC prevention and elimination. The concept of a central role for metabolism in cancer is the culmination of an effort that began with one of the 20th century's leading biochemists and Nobel laureate of 1931, Otto Warburg.