Risk Factors for Liver Cancer

Some factors may increase your risk for developing liver cancer. These include:

  • Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infection: The most common cause of primary liver cancer worldwide. The viruses (HBV and HCV) that cause these two forms of hepatitis can take a toll on the liver, damage that may lead to liver cancer years later. The viruses are contracted and spread through blood or sexual contact, but liver cancer itself is not contagious. A vaccine to prevent hepatitis B virus infection is available.
  • Cirrhosis: A condition in which liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. Cirrhosis may be caused by heavy alcohol use, too much iron in the liver, certain drugs or parasites, and HBV or HCV infection. More than 70 percent of liver cancer patients have chronic liver disease or cirrhosis.
  • Heavy alcohol intake: Drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day for years raises the risk for liver cancer; and people with hepatitis B or C may be more susceptible to the risk of alcohol.
  • Iron storage disease: A condition, hemochromatosis, in which the body stores too much iron in the liver and other organs.
  • Obesity and diabetes: Fatty liver as a result of obesity and diabetes can lead to a condition known as NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) and even cirrhosis. Patients with cirrhosis due to NASH have a 6-7 percent chance of developing liver cancer within 10 years.
  • Aflatoxin: A harmful substance made by certain types of mold that can form on corn, peanuts, and other nuts and grains. Aflatoxin is rare in this country thanks to our food safety measures, but rates are higher in parts of Asia and Africa.