A study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in the Journal of Hepatology suggests that close relatives of people with metabolic-associated fatty liver disease (MASLD) have an increased risk of developing liver cancer and other advanced liver diseases.
The research highlights the need for early intervention and lifestyle counseling not only for patients but also for their close family members.
MASLD: The emerging cause of liver cancer
Metabolic fatty liver disease, formerly known as NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), has emerged as a major factor in rising liver cancer rates.
It is already known that patients with MASLD are at increased risk of liver cancer and liver-related deaths.
Impact on family members
The first author of the study, Dr. Fahim Ebrahimi, emphasized that these results should change our approach to MASLD. “Patients with MASLD should not be treated separately,” he explained.
“Recommendations for lifestyle changes should also be given to their family members.”
The research team relied on the ESPRESSO cohort, which included liver biopsy data from 1965 to the present in Sweden.
After identifying nearly 12,000 people with MASLD, they compared each patient with up to five people from the general population and identified first-degree relatives and partners. Almost 250,000 first-degree relatives and 57,000 partners were included in the study.
With an average follow-up of 17.6 years (some up to 50 years), researchers found that first-degree relatives of MASLD patients had an 80% higher risk of developing liver cancer compared to controls.
However, the absolute risk increase over 20 years was only 0.11%. Jonas F. Ludvigsson, the study’s senior author, noted: “The absolute risk is very low, but still relevant at the population level.”
The study also showed that partners of MASLD patients had a higher risk of developing severe liver disease and dying from liver-related causes. This suggests that common lifestyle factors contribute significantly to the development of the disease.
The central theses
Close relatives of MASLD patients also have a significantly higher risk of developing liver cancer and other advanced liver diseases.
Lifestyle recommendations and possibly early screening for MASLD could benefit these family members.
The study highlights the importance of a comprehensive, family-inclusive approach to managing and preventing MASLD and related disorders.
Given the clear familial risk and lifestyle factors, the study could lead to a change in the way doctors approach MASLD by extending preventive advice and screening recommendations to patients’ family members.
Given the increase in liver cancer, such measures could play a crucial role in reducing risk at both the individual and population levels.
If you care about your liver health, please read studies about simple habits that can lead to a healthy liver and common diabetes medications that can reverse liver inflammation.
For more health information, check out recent studies on simple blood tests that can help you determine your risk of fatty liver disease. The results show that this green diet can significantly reduce non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The research results can be found in the Journal of Hepatology.
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