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New study reveals why men are more likely to get liver cancer

Researchers suggest the finding could lead to new treatment options for patients

Photo (c) farland9 - Fotolia
With more and more people being diagnosed with liver cancer, a new study has explored why men are at a greater risk than women.

According to researchers, it all comes down to adiponectin -- a hormone that works to regulate the metabolism. The study revealed that the hormone is more common in women’s bodies, and the higher levels protect the liver from developing cancerous cells.

“Circulating adiponectin levels have been reported to be higher in women than in men,” said Dr. Guadalupe Sabio. “However, adiponectin’s role in [hepatocellular carcinoma] is controversial and needed further investigation.”

Where the difference lies

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common form of liver cancer, and is much more common in men than in women. The same is true of mice, which the researchers utilized to conduct their experiment.

The researchers examined both male and female mice, carefully analyzing their adiponectin levels and determining why men are more prone to liver cancer than their female counterparts. The study revealed that higher levels of adiponectin were key in protecting the female mice -- and female humans, for that matter -- from liver cancer, but there was more at play.

Dr. Sabio and his team found that testosterone compromises adiponectin levels; the former hormone doesn’t allow for the latter to reach optimal levels that protect against liver cancer.

In addition to regulating metabolism, adiponectin protects the liver by stimulating two proteins -- p38 and AMPK. These proteins not only decrease the likelihood of tumor growth, but they also stop cells from growing too rapidly.

The researchers used this information to create an interesting treatment option for the mice: cutting off testosterone levels to allow adiponectin levels to rise. The move was effective in shrinking the male mice’s tumors. The findings could help provide future treatment options for liver cancer patients.

“Our results unravel a real crosstalk between sex hormones, adipose tissue, and the liver, clarifying the mechanism underlying gender disparity in liver cancer development,” said Dr. Sabio.

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