Certain factors may increase the risk of liver cancer, such as obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic hepatitis. In some cases, people may be able to reduce the risk of liver cancer through dietary and lifestyle changes.

Liver cancer is cancer that begins in the liver. Certain factors, such as excessive alcohol use, hepatitis, obesity, and inherited disorders, may increase the risk of liver damage that could lead to liver cancer.

People can take steps to lower their risk of developing liver cancer.

This article looks at the causes and risk factors of liver cancer and how to reduce the risk.

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Liver cancer, or primary liver cancer, begins in liver cells. Liver cancer occurs when liver cells begin to mutate and grow out of control.

The most common type of liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. This type of liver cancer begins in cells called hepatocytes, which are in the liver. This type of liver cancer begins in cells called hepatocytes, the liver’s main cells.

The other main type of liver cancer is bile duct cancer, which begins in the liver’s bile ducts. Less common types of liver cancer include:

Cancer that spreads to the liver from another body part is not liver cancer. Doctors refer to this type of cancer as secondary liver cancer but treat it according to the original site of the cancer, such as lung or colon cancer.

Learn more about types of liver cancer here.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) lists gender and race or ethnicity as risk factors for liver cancer.

Men are more likely than women to have hepatocellular carcinoma, although this may be due to behaviors that increase certain risk factors.

In the United States, the rates of liver cancer among ethnic groups, from highest to lowest, are:

  1. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
  2. Hispanic/Latino people
  3. American Indians/Alaska Natives
  4. African Americans
  5. white people

Other risk factors for liver cancer include:

Chronic infection with HBV or HCV

Chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections can cause inflammation and cirrhosis of the liver, which may lead to liver cancer.

People can transmit HBV through bodily fluids, such as blood or semen. Common ways to pass on the virus include childbirth, sexual contact, and sharing needles.

People can transmit HCV through blood, which may happen through sharing needles or, less commonly, sexual contact.

Learn more about hepatitis here.


Cirrhosis of the liver is a condition where damage to healthy liver cells leads to scar tissue forming in the liver. This scar tissue prevents normal blood flow to the liver, which stops it from functioning properly.

In the United States, most cases of cirrhosis occur due to alcohol use disorder or chronic HCV or HBV infections.

Learn more about cirrhosis here.


Type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of liver cancer, particularly if people have additional risk factors, such as excessive alcohol consumption or chronic HCV or HBV infection.

The increased risk of liver cancer with type 2 diabetes may also be due to an increased likelihood of overweight or obesity, which can lead to liver problems.

Learn more about type 2 diabetes here.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a buildup of excess fat in the liver, which does not occur due to alcohol use. NAFLD is more common in people with obesity or type 2 diabetes.

Abnormal fat levels in the liver may lead to inflammation and damage to liver cells. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a subtype of NAFLD. NASH can lead to cirrhosis, which may develop into liver cancer.

Learn more about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease here.

Inherited liver diseases

Certain inherited diseases may increase the risk of liver cancer.

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder that leads to excess iron building up in the skin, joints, and certain organs. The excess iron can cause damage to these tissues and organs, including the liver. Hemochromatosis may lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Wilson’s disease is a genetic disorder that leads to excess copper in the body, which can cause damage to organs in the body, including the liver. Wilson’s disease may lead to sudden liver failure or cirrhosis, which could increase the risk of liver cancer.

Learn more about the genetics of liver cancer here.

Aflatoxin exposure

Aflatoxins are poisonous substances that come from a fungus. They can contaminate certain crops, such as corn, nuts, and grains. Improper storage of these foods in humid environments can cause the fungus to grow.

Long-term exposure to aflatoxins increases the risk of liver cancer. The risk is higher in warm, tropical parts of the world. Authorities in the United States and countries in Europe check foods for aflatoxin levels.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause cirrhosis, which increases the risk of developing liver cancer. It is also possible for heavy drinking to cause liver cancer without cirrhosis.

The risk of liver cancer may also increase in people with HBV or HCV infection who drink heavily.

Learn more about the link between alcohol and liver cancer here.

Steps that may help lower the risk of liver cancer include:

  • avoiding or limiting alcohol use
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • regular exercise
  • eating nutritious food
  • avoiding smoking
  • getting the HBV vaccine
  • knowing the sexual health status of every sexual partner
  • using a condom during sexual intercourse
  • if injecting drugs, using a clean, sterile needle every time and avoiding sharing needles
  • only getting piercings or tattoos at places that use sterile equipment and needles
  • avoiding exposure to aflatoxins
  • treating and managing any inherited liver diseases
  • attending regular health screenings

Learn more about preventing liver cancer here.

How is liver cancer usually found?

Symptoms of liver cancer may not occur in the early stages of the disease. This means the most common way that doctors find liver cancer is usually through routine testing with CT or MRI scans for another health reason.

If a doctor finds an unusual mass, they will then order further diagnostic tests.

Learn about blood tests that help diagnose liver cancer.

Can liver cancer be cured?

In some cases, doctors may be able to cure liver cancer. Diagnosing liver cancer at an early stage may mean that doctors can remove the cancer completely with surgery.

Liver cancer is cancer that begins in cells in the liver. It is more common among men than women and in certain races and ethnicities.

Common risk factors for liver cancer include chronic HCV or HBV infection, cirrhosis, and diabetes.

People may reduce their risk of liver cancer by lowering or avoiding risk factors, such as limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a moderate weight, and taking steps to prevent chronic hepatitis infections.