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Genet Med. 2018 Apr;20(4):383-389. doi: 10.1038/gim.2017.121. Epub 2017 Aug 3.

Clinical penetrance in hereditary hemochromatosis: estimates of the cumulative incidence of severe liver disease among HFE C282Y homozygotes.

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National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Department of Gut and Liver, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Centre forMolecular, Environmental, Genetic and Analytic Epidemiology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Department of Gastroenterology, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Iron overload (hemochromatosis) can cause serious, symptomatic disease that is preventable if detected early and managed appropriately. The leading cause of hemochromatosis in populations of predominantly European ancestry is homozygosity of the C282Y variant in the HFE gene. Screening of adults for iron overload or associated genotypes is controversial, largely because of a belief that severe phenotypes are uncommon, although cascade testing of first-degree relatives of patients is widely endorsed. We contend that severe liver disease (cirrhosis or hepatocellular cancer) is not at all uncommon among older males with hereditary hemochromatosis. Our review of the published data from a variety of empirical sources indicates that roughly 1 in 10 male HFE C282Y homozygotes is likely to develop severe liver disease during his lifetime unless iron overload is detected early and treated. New evidence from a randomized controlled trial of treatment allows for evidence-based management of presymptomatic patients. Although population screening for HFE C282Y homozygosity faces multiple barriers, a potentially effective strategy for increasing the early detection and prevention of clinical iron overload and severe disease is to include HFE C282Y homozygosity in lists of medically actionable gene variants when reporting the results of genome or exome sequencing.

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