Authors: Alice Weatherston
A new report released today by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) as part of their Continuous Update Project (CUP) reinforces existing evidence relating diet, nutrition and physical activity to liver cancer risk, highlighting key lifestyle factors associated with liver cancer development.
Liver cancer is now the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths globally and, according to recent World Health Organization statistics, the number of new cases is set to rise by 70% by 2035. Statistics for Europe report that the average 5-year survival rate for individuals with liver cancer is approximately 12%.
The meta-analysis carried out by WCRF builds on previous studies published in their 2007 Second Expert Report, ‘Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective’. This updated report aims to provide a comprehensive view on liver cancer prevention and survivorship through diet, weight and physical activity, with the predominant focus on hepatocellular carcinoma.
In total, the WCRF research includes 34 studies, comprising >8 million individuals and 24,600 liver cancer cases, and indicates associations between six lifestyle factors and liver cancer risk.
New conclusions from the analysis include the discovery of strong links between liver cancer development and being overweight or obese (assessed by BMI), as well as strong indications that drinking coffee may reduce liver cancer risk.
Specifically, the study determined that the risk of developing liver cancer may be reduced by approximately 14% if individuals consume one cup of coffee per day. This follows research published by WCRF in 2013 that suggested a link between coffee consumption and a reduction in womb cancer risk.
When talking to Oncology Central, representatives at WCRF did however reinforce the uncertainty over the many different variables that may affect the association between coffee consumption and reduced liver cancer risk, such as caffeine, sugar, milk etc. They also emphasized that the effect of coffee on other medical conditions means that recommendations cannot yet be made for coffee consumption.
In addition to this, the liver CUP report also highlights potential links between physical activity and fish consumption and a decreased risk of liver cancer; however, more research is also needed in order to confirm these findings.
The remaining results of the study highlight a previously recognized association between the consumption of food contaminated with aflatoxins and liver cancer, and also strengthen evidence on the effects of alcohol consumption on liver cancer risk.
According to findings presented in the report, the research confirmed for the first time that just three alcoholic drinks a day could be enough to cause liver cancer in some individuals. The CUP findings indicate that if consuming alcohol, women should aim to limit their intake to one drink per day and men to two drinks per day.
“Until now we were uncertain about the amount of alcohol likely to lead to liver cancer. But the research reviewed in this report is strong enough, for the first time, to be more specific about this,” explained Amanda McLean, Director of WCRF UK.
Overall, the researchers believe that in the case of the UK, where approximately 61% of people are either overweight or obese, nearly one quarter of diagnoses could be prevented if individuals maintained a healthy weight and did not consume alcohol.
In reaction to the findings, Tom Stansfeld (Cancer Research UK’s health information officer) commented: “While we already know there’s a link between liver cancer and alcohol what is strikingly new in this research is the link between liver cancer and being overweight. With more than 60% of adults being overweight or obese, this issue needs attention on a national level. Losing weight is never easy, but making lasting changes that you can stick to in the long term is the most effective way to become a healthy weight.”
Dr Kate Allen, Executive Director of Science and Public Affairs at WCRF International, concluded: “The evidence about the relationship between diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer is becoming well established. We hope that these new findings will inform the debate about possible public health implications and policy responses.”
Last November, WCRF released a CUP report that provided an update on how lifestyle factors may be related to the development of prostate cancer. The findings of this report also highlighted an association between body weight and cancer risk. Read more on their findings in prostate cancer in this exclusive Oncology Central opinion piece from Dr Kate Allen.