Alcohol use has links to several different cancers, including liver cancer. Research suggests it may contribute to liver cancer development in some people.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that in the United States in 2022, 41,260 people received a diagnosis of liver cancer and intrahepatic bile duct cancer, and around 30,520 people would have died from these cancers. Intrahepatic bile duct cancer begins to develop in the liver.

The number of people with liver cancer in the United States has more than tripled since 1980, while the death rate has more than doubled in the same time.

This article explores the links between alcohol and liver cancer, other possible causes, and ways to help prevent liver cancer.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Alcohol use can adversely affect a person’s health in several ways, including putting them at a higher risk of developing certain cancers, such as liver cancer.

Heavy and chronic alcohol use can lead to alcoholic liver disease. This is one of the leading causes of liver damage or scarring, which healthcare professionals call cirrhosis.

Many reputable organizations, including the ACS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), note that cirrhosis can put a person at a greater risk of developing liver cancer.

Similarly, a 2019 meta-analysis noted that people with cirrhosis have a marked increase in their risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a type of liver cancer.

However, the percentage of people who develop hepatocellular carcinoma from cirrhosis may be relatively low.

In a 2017 study, researchers reviewed over 3,000 people with cirrhosis living in the United Kingdom over 10 years. They found that of these people, only about 4% developed hepatocellular carcinoma.

A 2018 study noted that periodic screening for liver cancer in people with cirrhosis might be beneficial. The authors also noted that the available data showed low incident rates for hepatocellular carcinoma from cirrhosis.

A person may benefit from speaking with a healthcare professional about reducing alcohol intake.

Learn more about alcohol use disorder here.

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for cancer, visit our dedicated hub.

There are several potential causes and risk factors for liver cancer beyond alcohol use and cirrhosis. Though the following are often used interchangeably as either a risk factor or cause, experts are still not certain how each factor affects the cell changes that lead to cancer growth and development.

Some common risk factors include:

The ACS highlights other possible risk factors for developing liver cancer. For example, males are more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma than females. This may be because other risk factors are more common in males.

Additionally, people of certain races and ethnicities in the U.S. may have a higher risk of developing liver cancer. The highest rates of liver cancer are among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, followed by:

  • Hispanic Americans
  • Latin Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Alaska Natives
  • African Americans
  • white Americans

Learn more about liver cancer and genetics here.

People can take steps to help reduce their risks of developing liver cancer. Some ways a person may help prevent liver cancer include:

  • preventing and treating hepatitis B and C infections
  • limiting alcohol use or avoiding it altogether
  • stopping or never starting smoking
  • limiting exposure to potentially cancer-causing chemicals
  • treating diseases that can lead to liver cancer, such as cirrhosis
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Learn more about blood tests to diagnose liver dysfunction here.

Alcohol use may increase a person’s risk of developing liver cancer. Chronic and heavy use of alcohol can lead to alcoholic liver disease. This can cause cirrhosis, increasing an individual’s risk of developing liver cancer.

Other risk factors can also increase a person’s liver cancer risk.

Modifiable risk factors include avoiding infections that affect the liver, limiting exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a moderate weight.

People should speak with a healthcare professional if they are concerned about their alcohol intake or the likelihood of developing liver cancer. A doctor can provide further advice about how to limit alcohol consumption and prevent liver cancer.

Learn more about cancer in our dedicated hub here.