The gut microbiome and liver cancer: mechanisms and clinical translation

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| Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third leading cause of worldwide cancer mortality. HCC almost exclusively develops in patients with chronic liver disease, driven by a vicious cycle of liver injury, inflammation and regeneration that typically spans decades. Increasing evidence points towards a key role of the bacterial microbiome in promoting the progression of liver disease and the development of HCC. Here, we will review mechanisms by which the gut microbiota promotes hepatocarcinogenesis, focusing on the leaky gut, bacterial dysbiosis, microbe-associated molecular patterns and bacterial metabolites as key pathways that drive cancer-promoting liver inflammation, fibrosis and genotoxicity. On the basis of accumulating evidence from preclinical studies, we propose the intestinal-microbiota-liver axis as a promising target for the simultaneous prevention of chronic liver disease progression and HCC development in patients with advanced liver disease. We will review in detail therapeutic modalities and discuss clinical settings in which targeting the gut-microbiota-liver axis for the prevention of disease progression and HCC development seems promising.

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