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UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

It is still not known why one person may get liver cancer and another does not. We do know that people with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop liver cancer. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that liver cancer will develop. However, many people with known risk factors for liver cancer don't develop the disease.

The latest research has found the following risk factors for liver cancer:

  • Hepatitis B (HBV) or Hepatitis C (HCV): Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with either of these viruses. Around the world, infection with HBV or HCV is the main cause of liver cancer.
  • Heavy Alcohol Use: Having more than two drinks of alcohol each day for many years increases the risk of liver cancer and certain other cancers. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks.
  • Aflatoxin: Liver cancer can be caused by aflatoxin, a harmful substance made by certain types of mold. Aflatoxin can form on peanuts, corn, and other nuts and grains. In parts of Asia and Africa, levels of aflatoxin are high. However, the United States has safety measures limiting aflatoxin in the food supply.
  • Iron Storage Disease: Liver cancer may develop among people with a disease that causes the body to store too much iron in the liver and other organs.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is a serious disease that develops when liver cells are damaged and replaced with scar tissue. Many exposures cause cirrhosis, including Hepatitis B or C infection, heavy alcohol use, too much iron stored in the liver, certain drugs, and certain parasites. Almost all cases of liver cancer in the United States occur in people who first had cirrhosis, usually resulting from Hepatitis B or C infection, or from heavy alcohol use.
  • Obesity and Diabetes: Studies have shown that obesity and diabetes may be important risk factors for liver cancer.
Last updated: 5/26/2010 2:39:41 PM