Liver cancer risk factors and prevention
A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. There are risk factors related to lifestyle (i.e. ones you can do something about) and risk factors that you cannot control.
Major risk factors for HCC include:
- Chronic alcohol consumption
- Chronic Hepatitis B: A liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is most commonly transmitted from mother to child during birth and delivery, as well as through contact with blood or other body fluids, including sex with an infected partner, injection-drug use that involves sharing needles, syringes, or drug-preparation equipment and needle sticks or exposures to sharp instruments.
- Chronic Hepatitis C: A liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV is a bloodborne virus and the most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood, whether through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, and sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: This is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. It is usually seen in people who are overweight or obese.
Most people who are diagnosed with HCC have an underlying liver disease, caused by one of the above risk factors. In 80–90% cases, people diagnosed with HCC have cirrhosis of the liver, which is when liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue.
Other risk factors include:
- Age: Older age is a key risk factor for cancer. This is largely due to cell DNA damage accumulating over time. In the United States and Europe, the median age at diagnosis of liver cancer is 65 years.
- Smoking: HCC risk is 66% higher in current smokers than in non-smokers.
- Overweight and obesity: Compared to having a normal BMI (body mass index), being overweight is associated with a 21% increased risk of liver cancer.
- Family history/genetic factors: HCC risk is 155% higher in people with a family history of liver cancer.