Even as U.S. cancer rates decline, liver cancer rates remain on the rise, especially among Latinos.

But why?

A new UT Health San Antonio study found that Latinos with liver cancer had much higher levels of aflatoxins than those without liver cancer. Alfatoxins are cancer-causing chemicals produced by mold that can contaminate improperly stored foods.

grandparents with latino boy picnicPeople can ingest aflatoxins in contaminated corn, nuts, rice, sesame seeds, wheat, and some spices.

For the study, researchers gauged aflatoxin exposure in 42 liver cancer cases and 42 non-cases from clinics in San Antonio, Texas. Two-thirds of the pairs were Latinos.

Liver cancer cases had 6 times higher odds of having detectable levels of aflatoxins in their blood, compared to non-cases.

“This study means that Latinos have unique exposures that put them at higher risk for liver cancer,” said study leader Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez. Dr. Ramirez is leader of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, is first to link liver cancer with aflatoxin exposure among Latinos.

Ramirez and her team previously found that Latinos in South Texas have the highest rate of liver cancer in the nation.

Their 2014 study found that liver cancer incidence rates were 3.1 higher in men and 4 times higher in women than their non-Latino White counterparts. South Texas Latinos had even higher rates.

Liver cancer risk factors may include:

  • diabetes and obesity;
  • hepatitis;
  • genetic predisposition; and
  • environmental contamination and hazards along the Texas-Mexico border, such as aflatoxin exposure.

Ramirez plans to continue examining the causes and potential solutions.

“Understanding the causes of increasing liver cancer in South Texas is critical. We must develop interventions and identify high-risk individuals who may be screened and treated with the best available care,” she said.

Other UT Health San Antonio researchers contributed to the new study, including: Edgar Muñoz, Dorothy Long Parma, Joel Michalek, and Alan Holden. Brad Pollock of The University of California, Davis and Timothy Phillips of Texas A&M University also contributed.

(main photo via Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board)

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