Sex hormones and risk of liver tumor

L Giannitrapani, M Soresi, E La Spada, M Cervello, N D'Alessandro, G Montalto
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2006, 1089: 228-36
The liver is morphologically and functionally modulated by sex hormones. Long-term use of oral contraceptives (OCs) and anabolic androgenic steroids (AASs) can induce both benign (hemangioma, adenoma, and focal nodular hyperplasia [FNH]) and malignant (hepatocellular carcinoma [HCC]) hepatocellular tumors. Hepatic adenomas (HAs) are rare, benign neoplasms usually occurring in young women, the development and the complications of which have been related to the strength of OCs and the duration of their use. HA incidence has fallen since the introduction of pills containing smaller amounts of estrogens. FNH is a benign lesion, most commonly seen in young women, which is thought to represent a local hyperplastic response of hepatocytes to a vascular abnormality. Because of the female predominance and the young age at onset, a role of female hormones has been suggested. Furthermore, a large proportion of women with FNH (50-75%) are OC users. Liver hemangiomas (LHs) are the most common benign liver tumors and are seen more commonly in young adult females. The female predilection and clinical observations of LH growth under conditions of estrogenic exposure suggest a possible role for estrogen in the pathogenesis of LHs. HCC has become one of the most widespread tumors in the world in recent years, representing the sixth leading cancer and the third most common cause of death from cancer. Apart from liver cirrhosis, numerous other factors responsible for its onset have been proposed: hepatitis infections from virus B (HBV) and C (HCV), alcohol, smoking, and aflatoxin. However, regardless of etiology, chronic liver diseases progress at unequal rates in the two sexes, with the major sequelae, such as cirrhosis and HCC, being more frequent in men than in women. These epidemiological data have prompted researchers to investigate the relationship between sex hormones and liver tumors. The human liver expresses estrogen and androgen receptors and experimentally both androgens and estrogens have been implicated in stimulating hepatocyte proliferation and may act as liver tumor inducers or promoters.

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