Liver cancer develops when the DNA of liver cells changes (mutates). The DNA of a cell is the
material that contains the instructions for every chemical process in your body. Changes in
these instructions are caused by DNA mutations. As a result, cells may begin to proliferate
uncontrollably, eventually forming a tumour — a mass of cancerous cells.
The cause of liver cancer is sometimes known, such as in chronic hepatitis infections.
However, liver cancer can occur in people who have no underlying diseases, and it is unknown
what causes it.
The following are risk factors for primary liver cancer:
- Chronic HBV or HCV infection Chronic infection with the
hepatitis B or C viruses increases your risk of developing liver cancer.
- Cirrhosis. Scar tissue forms in your liver as a result of
this progressive and irreversible condition, increasing your chances of developing liver
- Some inherited liver diseases Hemochromatosis and
Wilson's disease are two liver diseases that can increase the risk of developing liver
- Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to develop
liver cancer than those who do not have diabetes.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fat
accumulation in the liver increases the risk of developing liver cancer.
- Aflatoxin exposure. Aflatoxins are poisons produced by
moulds that grow on poorly stored crops. Aflatoxin contamination can occur in crops such
as grains and nuts, which can then end up in foods made from these products.
- Drinking too much alcohol. Consuming more than a moderate
amount of alcohol daily for a long period of time can cause irreversible liver damage
and increase your risk of developing liver cancer.
Reduce your chances of developing cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is liver scarring that increases the risk of liver cancer. Cirrhosis risk can be
reduced if you:
Drink alcohol sparingly, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, keep
your consumption to a minimum. This means no more than one drink per day for women. This
means no more than two drinks per day for men.
Keep a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to keep it
that way by eating well and exercising most days of the week. If you want to lose weight,
cut back on the number of calories you consume each day and increase your physical activity.
Obtain a hepatitis B vaccination.
You can reduce your risk of hepatitis B by getting vaccinated. The vaccine is safe to
administer to almost anyone, including infants, the elderly, and those with compromised
Take precautions to avoid hepatitis C.
There is no hepatitis C vaccine, but you can reduce your risk of infection.
Learn about the health of any sexual partner. Do not engage in unprotected sex unless you are
confident that your partner is not infected with HBV, HCV, or another sexually transmitted
infection. If you don't know your partner's health status, use a condom every time you have
If you must use intravenous (IV) drugs, use a clean needle. Avoid injecting illegal drugs to
lower your risk of HCV. If that isn't an option, make sure any needle you use is sterile and
that you don't share it. A common source of hepatitis C infection is contaminated drug
When getting a piercing or tattoo, look for a safe, clean location. Needles that have not
been properly sterilised have the potential to spread the hepatitis C virus. Check out the
shops in your area and ask staff members about their safety practises before getting a
piercing or tattoo. If shop employees refuse to answer your questions or don't take them
seriously, it's a sign that the facility isn't right for you.
Seek treatment if you have hepatitis B or C.
Hepatitis B and C infections have treatments available. According to research, treatment can
lower the risk of developing liver cancer.
Your doctor will insert a thin needle through your skin and into your liver to obtain a
tissue sample during a liver biopsy. Doctors examine the tissue under a microscope in the
lab to look for cancer cells. A liver biopsy can result in bleeding, bruising, and
Determining the extent of the cancer in the liver
Once you've been diagnosed with liver cancer, your doctor will work to determine the extent
(stage) of the disease.