According to a new study, men produce more of a protein linked to liver cancer than women do. Researchers report that this finding might explain why liver cancer affects more men than women.
Your body produces a certain protein, called IL-6. This protein shows up when there is damage to your liver. And once IL-6 is in your liver, it can cause chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation, in turn, can cause cancer.
It seems that women produce a lot less of this protein, however. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that estrogen actually keeps the amount of IL- 6 women do produce in check.
Liver cancer can be caused by chronic liver disease, heavy alcohol use, hepatitis B or C infections, or a family history of cancer. According to statistics, men are three to five times more likely to develop liver cancer than women.
Mice were used in this latest study. The research team first gave mice a cancer-causing agent. All of the male mice developed liver cancer. Only one out of five of the females developed cancer.
The researchers determined that levels of IL-6 in the males were much higher than in the females. Some mice were unable to produce IL-6. When the researchers gave the cancer-causing agent to these mice, only one in 10 males developed cancer.
The researchers also treated a third group of male mice with estrogen and then gave them the cancer-causing agent. In this case, rates of liver cancer remained the same as in normal female mice.
Researchers discovered that the liver cells showed that estrogen helped cut the production of IL-6.
“While some organs, such as breasts, are clearly influenced by gender, others, like the liver, are not,” said Willscott Naugler, clinical instructor in the department of medicine at UCSD, in a prepared statement.
Naugler went on to say that is very interesting that liver inflammation is suppressed by estrogens.
It’s possible that organs not usually associated with gender differences may follow a similar pattern as the liver.
Bladder cancer, for example, occurs more frequently in males than females. The difference may very well be a result of higher IL-6 levels and inflammation in male bladders.
The study was published in the July issue of “Science.” The researchers suggest that either reducing the amount of IL-6 in men or giving men an estrogen-like compound might help reduce liver cancer rates.