SNPwatch: Researchers Identify Genetic Variant That May Affect Liver Cancer Risk in Those Chronically Infected with Hepatitis B Virus

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC) is the fourth most common cancer in the world.  More than half a million new cases of this form of liver cancer are reported each year.  Excessive alcohol consumption and obesity have long been linked to HCC, but the main cause of the disease is chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection.  Not everyone chronically infected with the virus, however, develops HCC.

To investigate whether genetic factors play a part in whether an HBV-infected person will go on to develop HCC, researchers analyzed the DNA of several groups of people with Chinese ancestry, as it is known that in China 80% of cases of HCC are linked to chronic HBV infection.  Their results, published online this week in the journal Nature Genetics, show a strong link to a genetic variation on chromosome 1.

The sample of chronic HBV carriers used to identify the association consisted of 355 people with HCC and 360 without HCC.  An additional 1,962 individuals with HCC, 1,430 control subjects, and 159 families, were also studied to confirm the results.  The strongest association with increased risk for HBV-related HCC was discovered in SNP .  Overall, each copy of the less common T version of this SNP was associated with about 40% lower odds of HCC in people chronically infected with HBV.

(The strongest association found by the researchers was actually with SNP .  However, 23andMe does not currently provide data for this variant. is a perfect proxy for in people with Chinese ancestry.  23andMe Complete Edition customers can check their data for using the Browse Raw Data feature.)

The researchers also explored differences in the effect of on HCC rates among HBV carriers of different genders and ages.  They found that was more strongly associated with HCC in virus-infected males than females.  They also found that among those who did have HCC, people carrying two copies of the protective T version of the SNP were 1.1 years older at diagnosis than carriers of two copies of a C.

is near several genes: KIF1B, UBE4B and PGD.  Multiple lines of evidence suggest that one or more of these genes are plausible candidates for HCC susceptibility.  Changes in the region of the genome where they are found are commonly seen in many different cancers, including HCC.  The KIF1B gene has been shown to be important in preventing some types of tumors, and mutations in this gene are associated with several types of cancer.  UBE4B and PGD encode proteins involved in vital cellular processes that often go awry in cancer development.

For more information about Chronic Hepatitis B Infection, see the following Spittoon post:
Immune System Variations May Determine Susceptibility To Chronic Hepatitis B Infection

SNPwatch gives you the latest news about research linking various traits and conditions to individual genetic variations. These studies are exciting because they offer a glimpse into how genetics may affect our bodies and health; but in most cases, more work is needed before this research can provide information of value to individuals. For that reason it is important to remember that like all information we provide, the studies we describe in SNPwatch are for research and educational purposes only. SNPwatch is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice; you should always seek the advice of your physician or other appropriate healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding diagnosis, cure, treatment or prevention of any disease or other medical condition.

  • Neal

    Incredibly well written blog

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