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Epidemiological trends and trajectories of MAFLD-associated hepatocellular carcinoma 2002–2033: the ITA.LI.CA database


Background Metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) represents a new inclusive definition of the whole spectrum of liver diseases associated to metabolic disorders. The main objective of this study was to compare patients with MAFLD and non-MAFLD with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) included in a nationally representative cohort.

Methods We analysed 6882 consecutive patients with HCC enrolled from 2002 to 2019 by 23 Italian Liver Cancer centres to compare epidemiological and future trends in three subgroups: pure, single aetiology MAFLD (S-MAFLD); mixed aetiology MAFLD (metabolic and others, M-MAFLD); and non-MAFLD HCC.

Results MAFLD was diagnosed in the majority of patients with HCC (68.4%). The proportion of both total MAFLD and S-MAFLD HCC significantly increased over time (from 50.4% and 3.6% in 2002–2003, to 77.3% and 28.9% in 2018–2019, respectively, p<0.001). In Italy S-MAFLD HCC is expected to overcome M-MAFLD HCC in about 6 years. Patients with S-MAFLD HCC were older, more frequently men and less frequently cirrhotic with clinically relevant portal hypertension and a surveillance-related diagnosis. They had more frequently large tumours and extrahepatic metastases. After weighting, and compared with patients with non-MAFLD, S-MAFLD and M-MAFLD HCC showed a significantly lower overall (p=0.026, p=0.004) and HCC-related (p<0.001, for both) risk of death. Patients with S-MAFLD HCC showed a significantly higher risk of non-HCC-related death (p=0.006).

Conclusions The prevalence of MAFLD HCC in Italy is rapidly increasing to cover the majority of patients with HCC. Despite a less favourable cancer stage at diagnosis, patients with MAFLD HCC have a lower risk of HCC-related death, suggesting reduced cancer aggressiveness.

  • hepatocellular carcinoma
  • nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. The ITA.LI.CA database management conforms to the past and the current Italian legislation regarding privacy, and the present study conforms to the ethical guidelines of the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval for the study was obtained from the Institutional Review Board of the participating centres.

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