Sex hormones are to blame for men's higher susceptibility to liver cancer, according to a study by researchers at a Hong Kong university, a newspaper report said Wednesday.
The Chinese University study found that liver cancer was exceptionally active when the protein receptor of the male sex hormone took control of one of the 17,000 genes in the body, the South China Morning Post said, DPA reported.
Liver cancer is the third most deadly cancer in the world.
University vice-chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu said: "Every one of us has this gene," called cell cycle-related kinase.
Sung added, "The key is whether it'll be activated and how much of it is in your body. During liver cancer development, the gene is abnormally activated, which in turn allows cells to grow at an abnormally high rate. It's like awakening a long-dormant gene."
During an ongoing three-year research project scientists at the university's Institute of Digestive Disease found that about 70 per cent of the 50 liver cancer patients involved in the study produced high levels of the gene.
They were also more likely to die sooner than those with low levels of the gene.
The scientists found that proteins uniquely present in men directly controlled the gene, which was critical for inducing processes that led to abnormal cell growth and tumour formation.
This was why globally the disease was seven times more frequent in men than women in 2007, they said.
Locally, men were three times more likely to be prone to the killer cancer than women. In 2008, out of 1,745 new cases of liver cancer, men accounted for more than 1,200.
Sung said now the gene has been proven to promote liver cancer targeted therapy can be developed to treat it. He said he expected medication to be ready in five to 10 years.