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.
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 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.
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:
- Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
- Hispanic/Latino people
- American Indians/Alaska Natives
- African Americans
- 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
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
In the United States,
Learn more about cirrhosis here.
Type 2 diabetes
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
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
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
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
Learn more about the genetics of liver cancer here.
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
Excessive alcohol consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption
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
- 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
How is liver cancer usually found?
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?
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.