What Is Liver Cancer? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention – Everyday Health
June 12, 2022
Liver cancer is often an aftereffect of cirrhosis — scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis is often the result of other diseases of the liver, such as hepatitis, fatty liver disease, or chronic alcohol use. It also can be caused by other conditions, lifestyle, or medications.
“About 90 percent of hepatocellular carcinomas [primary liver cancers] arise in patients with liver disease,” says Mario Strazzabosco, MD, PhD, the director and clinical program leader of the Smilow Liver Cancer Program at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. “Most of the time the patient has advanced liver disease — cirrhosis.”
Liver cancer also affects people with healthy livers who don’t have any underlying conditions. In those cases, scientists speculate that liver cells develop defects, or mutations, in their DNA that cause them to grow out of control and form a tumor.
Risk Factors for Liver Cancer
Researchers have identified several risk factors that increase a person’s chances of developing liver cancer.
“Often, a patient presents with more than one risk factor and risk increases exponentially with the number of risk factors,” says Dr. Strazzabosco.
Common risk factors include:
Cirrhosis of the liver, chronic hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
Overweight or obesity
Certain inherited diseases, such as Wilson’s disease (a rare disorder that causes copper poisoning) or hemochromatosis (a buildup of excess iron in the liver)
Excessive alcohol consumption
Foods that contain aflatoxin (a fungus that can grow on grains and nuts that haven’t been properly stored)
“An important concept is that by addressing these risk factors, it would be possible to drastically reduce the incidence of [liver cancer],” says Strazzabosco. “There are also well-defined protocols for oncologic [cancer-preventing] surveillance in patients with identified risk factors. Unfortunately, these recommendations are not always followed.”