What causes liver cancer?
Can liver cancer be found early?
Liver cancer is a common type of cancer in the United States. And liver cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death.
There are many factors that can put you at risk for liver damage. Over time and if left untreated, this damage can lead to a condition called cirrhosis, which can put you at risk for liver failure or cancer.
Liver cancer is a cancer that starts in the cells of your liver. There are several types of cancer that can form in the liver, but the most common one is hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Here's a downloadable resource for patients and doctors. Print it to help you understand more about liver cancer.
The risk factors below increase your chances of developing liver cancer. If you have any of these, your doctor may recommend liver cancer screening.
There are several risk factors that may increase the chances of getting liver cancer. They include:
The most common risk factor for liver cancer is long-term infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV). The risk increases more if the individual is a heavy drinker (having 6+ alcoholic drinks a day).
HBV and HCV commonly spread through:
People with HBV or HCV can sometimes go undiagnosed because the virus may not show symptoms.
Most people with liver cancer show evidence of having cirrhosis. It's a condition that causes liver cells to become damaged, which can lead to scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis is usually caused by heavy alcohol drinking or having a long-term hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection.
Alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis in the United States, and cirrhosis is linked with an increased risk of liver cancer. Smoking can also increase your risk. People who are former smokers have a lower risk than current smokers, but both groups have a higher risk compared to those who have never smoked.
Being obese (very overweight) can lead to fatty liver disease and cirrhosis, which may increase the risk of liver cancer.
This disease is common in obese (very overweight) people, and those with a subtype called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) are particularly at risk for developing cirrhosis, which can increase the risk of liver cancer.
Type 2 diabetes can increase the risk of developing liver cancer, especially if the there are other risk factors, like hepatitis, present.
In the United States, Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals have the highest rates of liver cancer. Americans who identify as Hispanic/Latino have the next highest rates, followed by individuals who identify as Native American or Alaskan Native, Black Americans, and White Americans.
One of the main environmental factors that can increase the risk for liver cancer are aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are made by a fungus that can occur when soybeans, wheat, peanuts, and rice are stored in a warm and moist environment. This isn’t a major concern in the United States due to food safety protocols.
Certain rare conditions like hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease can increase the risk of liver cancer.
Whether you have any of these risk factors or not, it can help to know what symptoms someone with liver cancer may experience. People with liver cancer often don't have symptoms until the disease has progressed into later stages. So it's important to talk with your doctor about liver cancer screenings if you believe you're at risk.
Since the symptoms often don’t appear until the later stages of the disease, it can be hard to diagnose liver cancer early. That’s why it’s important that you talk to a doctor about a liver screening if you have risk factors like hepatitis or cirrhosis (liver scarring).
There are several types of liver screening tests to help identify liver cancer. These include ultrasounds and blood tests. Your doctor may start with a normal liver function test to see how well your liver is working, along with an imaging test to get a clear picture of your liver's health. Talk to your doctor to find out which liver screening test would be best for you.
When liver cancer is caught early, doctors can take action early.
Need help starting the conversation with your doctor?
Knowing your personal risk factors for liver cancer and talking about them with a doctor can help you make better choices in your care. If you have risk factors like hepatitis or cirrhosis, it’s important that you talk with a doctor. Below are a few questions to consider asking.
If you don't have a doctor, you can search for a health center using the "Find a Health Center" tool provided by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA).
Take action—ask your doctor about a liver cancer screening.
Am I at risk for liver cancer?
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