Liver Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Liver Cancer Causes and Risk Factors


Possible Causes of Liver Cancer

Clear causes of liver cancer haven’t been found. However, in some cases, it’s possible to detect one. For example, if you suffer from a chronic infection accompanied by a particular hepatitis viruses, this may be a reason for having liver cancer.

Liver cancer occurs when there are mutations going on in the liver cells’ DNA. DNA is a source of information on the basis of which every chemical process in your body starts. These “instructions” are changed when mutations occur. Such like changes may result in the situation when the cells start growing uncontrollably. Eventually, they form a tumor – an accumulation of cancerous cells.

Risk Factors in Case of Liver Cancer

A risk factor is, actually, anything that can make you more prone to having any disease and cancer in particular. Keep in mind that risk factors vary in accordance with cancer. There are risk factors that you can keep under control and there are ones you’re not responsible for. In the first case, it is about, for example, smoking and in the second one, it is about your age or cases of cancer in your family.

You are not to forget that risk factors can tell for sure what will happen to you in future. In some cases, a person may have one or several risk factors and, still, he or she doesn’t face the disease. There are cases when a person is diagnosed with cancer even though he or she has no risk factors or they are unknown yet.

Scientists have stated that there are several risk factors that make a person more likely to be diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (or HCC for short).

Your Gender

These are exactly males who are more prone to having HCC. This is probably due to the fact that they have some bad addictions more often than women do. These addictions may contribute to the risk of having the disease. However, fibrolamellar subtype of HCC is the disease that women are more often diagnosed with.


The cancer most often occurs in people from the US. Besides, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also have an increased risk of facing the disease. The list also includes American Indians/Alaska Natives, Hispanics/Latinos, Afro Americans and Europeans.

Suffering from Chronic Viral Hepatitis (Hep-B or Hep-C)

Liver Cancer - Causes and Risk Factors

The most frequently stated risk of the disease all over the world is suffering on a long-term basis from a chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV for short) or hepatitis C virus (HCV for short). Both these infections may result in cirrhosis of the liver. They are the ones to blame for the liver cancer being the most frequent type of cancer all over the world.

In the US, HCV is considered to be the most common reason for the occurrence of HCC. At the same time, in Asia as well as in the developing countries, HBV is considered to be the most common reason. If a person suffers from both the viruses, are very much prone to having cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis and liver cancer. If, apart from it, they are addicted to alcohol (drink at least 6 alcohol drinks per day), the risk is even more increased.

A person may get HBV and HCV through sharing contaminated needles (this often happens with drug addicts). The disease can also be passed on from one person to another during a sexual intercourse or when he or she is born. Even though it’s rare, the disease is passed on from the ill person to the healthy one during blood transfusions. In developing countries, HBV is passed on to children if they have been in contact with ill family members for long.

In case you’re diagnosed with HBV, the following symptoms will probably occur: illness that looks a lot like a flu and jaundice (the disease when your eyes and skin turn yellow). Still, you’re not to worry since, in the majority of cases, patients get rid of HBV within several months. Only in a very small percent of cases, the disease become chronic in character. These patients are more prone to having liver cancer in future. If infants and small children get infected with HBV, they, as well, have an increased risk of having a chronic case of the disease in future.

HCV, on the contrary, is unlikely to cause any symptoms at all. However, the majority of those who are dealing with HCV develop chronic infections. As a result, they are more prone to having their liver damaged and having cancer as well.

As for other viruses, for example, hepatitis A virus and hepatitis E virus, they may also lead to hepatitis. However, those infected with the viruses do not face cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis and a higher risk of liver cancer.

Suffering from Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a case when your liver cells are severely damaged. As a result of this damage, they are replaced with scar tissue. Those who deal with cirrhosis have a higher risk of facing liver cancer in future. The majority (still not all) patients who face liver cancer already have some symptoms of cirrhosis.

There have been found several reasons for cirrhosis. The majority of cirrhosis cases in the US have to do with either alcohol addiction or chronic HBV and HCV infections.

Having a Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease means that people have no alcohol addiction but they suffer from obesity that causes the disease. Those who are diagnosed with NASH or, as doctors refer to it, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis may face cirrhosis.

Primary Biliary Cirrhosis

Some types of autoimmune diseases that are known to have an impact on liver may also be a reason for cirrhosis. For instance, there may be PBC or primary biliary cirrhosis when the bile ducts located in the liver are severely damaged or even destroyed. This damage may lead to cirrhosis. People who deal with the advanced case of PBC have an increased risk of facing liver cancer.

Inherited Metabolic Diseases

There are particular metabolic diseases that may result in cirrhosis. You may inherit the disease from your parents.

If it’s about hereditary hemochromatosis, keep in mind that lots of iron from the food is absorbed. The iron then gets inside the tissues and travels inside your body. Eventually, it may get to your liver. If lots of iron is accumulated inside your liver, cirrhosis and liver cancer can occur.

Drinking too Much Alcohol

Alcohol addiction is the main reason for cirrhosis in the US. Cirrhosis is connected with a higher risk of liver cancer.

Suffering from Obesity

If you have excess weight, bear in mind that you have a higher risk of facing liver cancer in future. A possible explanation here is that obesity may lead to fatty liver and cirrhosis.

Being Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has to do with a higher risk of liver cancer. As a rule, it refers to those patients who have other risk factors apart from this one. The risks are an alcohol addiction and/or chronic viral hepatitis. The risk is higher due to the fact that type 2 diabetes occurs in those people who suffer from obesity. Excess weight, in turn, may result in problems with liver.

Suffering from Particular Rare Diseases

Causes and Risk Factors for Liver Cancer

The list of such like diseases is as follows:

  • Tyrosinemia.
  • Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency.
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda.
  • Glycogen storage diseases.
  • Wilson disease.
  • Aflatoxins.

There are certain cancer-provoking substances the basis of which is fungus that can contaminate peanuts, wheat, soybeans, ground nuts, corn and rice. The substances are called aflatoxins. If you keep the foods mentioned in a warm but moist environment, it can contribute to the growth of fungus. Even though fungus may occur and start growing in any environment, as a rule, it occurs more often in tropical and warm countries. As for developed countries, such as the US and Europe, the level of aflatoxins in foods is checked with the help of a testing procedure.

If you’re exposed to these substances on a long-term basis, you have a very high risk of liver cancer. The risk is even higher if you have hepatitis B or C infections.

Vinyl Chloride and Thorium Dioxide (Thorotrast)

If you’re exposed to any of these chemicals, your risk of being diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the liver is higher. (For more information go to “What is liver cancer” section) Besides, there is an increased risk of cholangiocarcinoma and hepatocellular cancer. However, they are less likely to occur than angiosarcoma. Vinyl chloride is a chemical substance used in production of particular plastics. Thorotrast is a chemical substance that was previously used for injections. Particular patients received the injections as part of certain X-ray procedures. Once these chemicals were found to cause cancer, there were some measures taken so that to either eliminate or minimize exposure to them. As for Thorotrast, it is no longer used and exposure to vinyl chloride is strictly limited.

Anabolic Steroids

The steroids are male hormones that some athletes use with the view of increasing their strength and muscular mass. If you take the steroids on a long-term basis, you may become a bit more prone to having hepatocellular cancer. Cortisone-like steroids, for example, hydrocortisone, prednisone, and dexamethasone do not increase the risk.


If you drink water that’s contaminated with naturally occurring arsenic on a long-term basis (for instance, the one that comes from wells), it may make you more prone to being diagnosed with some types of liver cancer. Even though the case of contamination most often occurs in some parts of East Asia, it may be as likely to occur in certain areas of the US.

Being Infected With Parasites

If you’re infected with a particular parasite that leads to schistosomiasis, your liver may get damaged and liver damage has to do with liver cancer. Even though the parasite is not found in the US, the infection may occur in Asia, Africa and South America.

Smoking and Tobacco Use

The fact is that smoking contributes to the risk of liver cancer. Those who gave up smoking are less prone to having liver cancer compared to those who go on smoking. However, you should remember that both groups have an increased risk in comparison with those people who have never smoked.

Factors the effect of which on the risk of liver cancer is unclear.

Taking Birth Control Pills

Sometimes, very rarely though, oral contraceptives may be a reason for the occurrence of benign tumors that are referred to as hepatic adenomas. However, scientists haven’t yet proved if they make the risk of hepatocellular cancer higher. According to some studies, there may be a connection between birth control pills and liver cancer. Still, it should be pointed out that many of these studies were of low quality and they took into account the pills that are no longer used. Birth control pills that are used currently include various types of estrogens, various estrogen doses and various combinations of estrogens and other hormones. It hasn’t been found out if these up-to-date pills may increase the risk of liver cancer.

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