For years, the main cause of liver cancer was heavy drinking but that is no more the case. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is now the prime force behind most liver cancers. Obesity is widely been blamed for this but there is also evidence suggesting that disrupted circadian rhythms play a part too. How and why circadian disruption has this effect has been a mystery but now a new study is revealing details.
The researchers worked with mice and found that jet lag induced the livers of the animals to produce and store far more fat than they otherwise would. Worse, they noticed that jet lag drove the mice to produce compounds that both induced mutations and helped their liver cells to replicate rapidly. The combination of increased cellular replication with mutagens around proved utterly toxic and ultimately produced cancer cells. This is unpleasant stuff but the researchers point out that understanding the chemical pathways responsible for spawning liver cancer can give us the edge as we attempt to prevent this terrible disease. You can read more in The Economist article that I wrote on this here.