Southern Europe as an example of interaction between various environmental factors: a systematic review of the epidemiologic evidence.

Research paper by F F Donato, U U Gelatti, R M RM Limina, G G Fattovich

Indexed on: 27 Jun '06Published on: 27 Jun '06Published in: Oncogene


Hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and alcohol consumption are major causes of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) worldwide. We performed a systematic review of epidemiologic studies carried out on HCC aetiology in Southern Europe, an area with an intermediate-high prevalence of these agents as well as of putative risk factors such as tobacco smoking, diabetes and obesity. To retrieve the articles, we performed a Medline search for titles and abstracts of articles. After the Medline search, we reviewed the papers and reference lists to identify additional articles. A synergism between HCV infection and HBV infection, overt (hepatitis B virus antigen (HbsAg) positivity) or occult (HBsAg negativity with presence of HBV DNA in liver or serum), is suggested by the results of some studies. The pattern of the risk for HCC due to alcohol intake shows a continuous dose-effect curve without a definite threshold, although most studies found that HCC risk increased only for alcohol consumption above 40-60 g of ethanol per day. Some evidence supports a positive interaction of alcohol intake probably with HCV infection and possibly with HBV infection. A few studies found that coffee has a protective effect on HCC risk due to various risk factors. Some data also support a role of tobacco smoking, diabetes and obesity as single agents or preferably co-factors in causing HCC. In countries with a relatively high alcohol consumption and intermediate levels of HCV and HBV infections (1-3% of population infected by each virus), such as Mediterranean countries, the three main risk factors together account for about 85% of the total HCC cases, leaving little space to other known risk factors, such as haemochromatosis, and to new, still unrecognised, factors as independent causes of HCC.