HCC Risk Lower With Higher Intake of Vegetable Fats, Polyunsaturated Fats

Foods high in omega three such as salmon and avocado
Foods high in omega three, studio shot.
The source of fats in an individual’s diet may alter the risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.

The source of fats in an individual’s diet may alter the risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). A long-term survey of American dietary habits was conducted at Harvard Medical School and the results were published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The researchers combined the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), which were validated semi-quantitative questionnaires about dietary habits. The NHS began in 1980 and the HPFS in 1986; both studies collected data every 4 years thereafter with a 90% response rate. A total of 138,483 participants were included in the studies.

A small fraction (n=160) of the participants developed HCC during the study period. The researchers reported no significant association between total fat intake and HCC. The study observed that the source of fat alters HCC risk; participants who had a high intake of vegetable fats had a reduced risk (hazard ratio [HR] for the highest vs lowest quartile, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.39-0.96; P =.02).

In addition, the polyunsaturated fatty acid n-6 (HR, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.34-0.86; P =.02) and n-3 (HR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.41-0.96; P =.14) were inversely associated with HCC risk. In general, higher consumption of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fat were inversely correlated with HCC risk (P ≤.02). The data suggested that replacing animal or dairy fats with an equivalent amount of vegetable fats may lower the risk for HCC (HR per 1 standard deviation, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.65-0.97).

The study had 2 major sources of potential bias. These surveys were of medical professionals, resulting in an overwhelmingly white (>95%) cohort with a high socio-economic background and therefore do not represent the general population. Furthermore, the low number of HCC cases among the participants may affect the power of the analysis.

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The study concluded that an increase in vegetable fats lowered the risk of developing HCC and that replacing animal fats with vegetable fats may have had a protective effect.

Disclosures: Some declared author affiliations are with the pharmaceutical industry. A complete list of disclosures can be found in the original study.


Yang W, Sui J, Ma Y, et al. High dietary intake of vegetable or polyunsaturated fats is associated with reduced risk of hepatocellular carcinoma [published online January 9, 2020]. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. doi:10.1016/j.cgh.2020.01.003