Scientists have discovered a genetic deficiency in males that could prompt the development of the most common type of liver cancer – hepatocellular carcinoma – and type 2 diabetes. This is according to a study published in the journal Cancer Cell.

Researchers from Michigan State University, led by Hua Xiao of the College of Human Medicine at the university, say their findings could lead to new therapeutic interventions for both conditions.

Type 2 diabetes is commonly known to be a risk factor for liver cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, this increased risk is more common in people who have other underlying factors, such as chronic viral hepatitis or heavy alcohol use.

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is also two to four times more prevalent in men than in women.

In a mouse study, the investigators discovered that a gene called NCOA5 – found in both men and women – triggered the production of cells that lead to the development of HCC when deficient in 94% of male mice.

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Researchers say that deficiency of a gene called NCOA5 in males could be a cause of hepatocellular carcinoma – the most common liver cancer – and type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, prior to the mice developing the cancer, the researchers discovered occurrences of glucose intolerance in 100% of the mice – a condition that indicates increased risk for type 2 diabetes in humans.

Xiao says their findings provide evidence that males have a genetic susceptibility for HCC and type 2 diabetes.

He explains that the reason for the differences in susceptibility between males and females may be a result of different hormone levels between genders.

“Because estrogen may function through the NCOA5 gene and previously has been found to play somewhat of a protective role against both diseases, the result is a decreased risk in females,” he says. “Since males produce lower amounts of estrogen, this can contribute to their susceptibility.”

The investigators note that the prevalence of diabetes is increasing worldwide. According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 25.8 million people in the US alone with the condition.

They also point out that there are limited treatments for HCC. Options include liver transplantation, surgical resection and ablation techniques for patients with early stages of the disease.

But they note that with further research, their findings could lead to new therapeutic treatments for both conditions.

Xiao says:

At this point, it’s not known if the genetic deficiency can be reversed and needs to be investigated further. But if it can somehow be changed through treatments such as drug therapies, this could substantially increase the chances of men in particular warding off these diseases.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of liver cancer by 40%.