National survey of hepatocellular carcinoma in heavy drinkers in Japan

Yoshinori Horie, Yoshiyuki Yamagishi, Mikio Kajihara, Shinzo Kato, Hiromasa Ishii
Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research 2003, 27 (8): 32S-36S

BACKGROUND: The major cause of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in the general Japanese population is an infection related to hepatotropic viruses, especially hepatitis virus C (HCV). Even in heavy drinkers, the major cause of HCC is HCV infection. However, HCC without viral infection has been reported in heavy drinkers. Alcohol has been also reported to be associated with an increased risk of cancer. In this study, we investigated aspects of HCC pathogenesis in heavy drinkers in Japan.

METHODS: Questionnaires were sent to 1,350 hospitals authorized by the Japanese Society of Gastroenterology. The questionnaires asked about the number of inpatients with the different types of alcoholic liver diseases, admitted to each hospital between 1998 and 2001.

RESULTS: The percentage of heavy drinkers among all admitted patients with liver diseases or liver cirrhosis was approximately 15%. Of the patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis, the cirrhosis was derived from alcohol alone in 61% and from alcohol plus a virus in 39% of patients. Furthermore, the percentage of patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis caused by alcohol alone and who did not have HCC was 80%. However, the percentage of HCC patients who tested negative for viral hepatitis serum markers was 27% of the total number of heavy drinkers admitted for HCC. A study mainly on liver cirrhosis performed in the early 1990's demonstrated that the alcohol-alone group accounted for 44% of admitted patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis and 18% of heavy drinkers admitted for HCC.

CONCLUSIONS: Because the consumption of alcohol is increasing in Japan, the frequency and number of cases of alcoholic liver cirrhosis are increasing. Viral hepatitis infection, however, still plays an important role in hepatocarcinogenesis in heavy drinkers. Radiographical examination is recommended even in patients with alcoholic liver cirrhosis who test negative for serum markers of viral hepatitis.

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