Primary liver cancer (PLC) is the third leading cause of cancer mortality globally. In endemic areas of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, PLC largely arises from chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and ingestion of aflatoxins. Although synergistic interactions between these two risk factors have been observed in cohort studies in China, here we determined the impact of agricultural reforms in the 1980s leading to diminished maize consumption and implementation of subsidized universal vaccination against HBV in the 2000s on PLC primary prevention. A population-based cancer registry was used to track PLC mortality in Qidong, China and was compared with the timeline of HBV immunization. Randomly selected serum samples from archived cohort collections from the 1980s to present were analyzed for aflatoxin biomarkers. More than 50% reductions in PLC mortality rates occurred across birth cohorts from the 1960s to the 1980s for Qidongese less than 35 years of age although all were born before universal vaccination of newborns. Median levels of the aflatoxin biomarker decreased from 19.3 pg/mg albumin in 1989 to undetectable (<0.5 pg/mg) by 2009. A population attributable benefit of 65% for reduced PLC mortality was estimated from a government-facilitated switch of dietary staple from maize to rice; 83% of this benefit was in those infected with HBV. Food policy reforms in China resulted in a dramatic decrease in aflatoxin exposure, which, independent of HBV vaccination, reduced liver cancer risk. The extensive HBV vaccine coverage now in place augurs even greater risk reductions in the future.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research