Fatty liver linked to bowel cancer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am


Patients who suffer from a condition known as 'fatty liver' - an abnormal build-up of fat in the liver - are more likely to develop bowel cancer, one of the most common cancers in Hong Kong, a study has revealed.

The results were uncovered after 380 people aged between 40 and 70 - comprising both non-alcohol induced fatty liver disease (NAFLD) patients and healthy volunteers - underwent colonoscopy screening.

One in four Hongkongers suffered from NAFLD, said the university.

Experts at the Centre for Liver Health at Chinese University of Hong Kong, which carried out the study, said its findings highlighted the need for more colonoscopy screenings - the only way to detect the problem.

The study took into account characteristics like gender, smoking habits, family history, body mass index, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Results showed NAFLD patients had three times more chance of getting advanced polyps than healthy individuals. They were also 1.7 times more prone to polyps on the right-side of the colon, where the damage moves faster.

Of the patients involved in the study who received a liver biopsy test, the active fatty liver cases showed a two-and-a-half times higher chance of developing advanced polyps than the inactive cases.

One patient, aged around 60, had a total of 10 polyps removed from the right side of her colon immediately after a colonoscopy screening in 2008. Her test showed all polyps were gone after two years.

She was first diagnosed with fatty liver disease and diabetes in 1994. 'I did not notice any symptoms of having a fatty liver,' she said.

She said her grandmother had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 90.

Professor Vincent Wong Wai-sun, from the university's Faculty of Medicine recommended that patients who had a family history of colon diseases have a colonoscopy every 10 years from the age of 40.

'Colorectal cancer is one of the most common diseases in Hong Kong, but it is also preventable,' he said.

'If fatty liver patients don't have colonoscopy screenings to detect existing polyps, they will miss the chance of recovery, or, even worse, they may develop colon cancer.'

Colorectal - or bowel - cancer is the second most common cancer in Hong Kong.

According to the latest statistics provided by the Department of Health, in 2008 a total of 4,031 new bowel cancer cases were recorded, accounting for 16 per cent of all new cancer cases that year. Of these cases, 56 per cent were male.

In 2009, there were 1,752 registered deaths caused by bowel cancer - 3 per cent more than in 2008.