Multiple studies have found that certain lifestyle and non-lifestyle-related factors can increase the risk of liver cancer. Having these risk factors does not guarantee a liver cancer diagnosis; they only increase one’s risk of developing liver cancer.
When it comes to liver cancer prevention, there are no known ways to prevent liver cancer. That said, certain measures can be adopted to reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Several factors increase the risk of liver cancer. The following are some of the important liver cancer risk factors:
Various underlying chronic medical conditions increase the risk of liver cancer. Patients with diabetes are at higher liver cancer risk. Further, chronic liver conditions, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, also increase the risk of liver cancer.
Patients with liver cirrhosis have an enhanced risk of liver cancer. In liver cirrhosis, the healthy liver cells are replaced with scar tissues, and there is a reduction in liver function. Cirrhosis may occur due to chronic viral infections of the liver and chronic alcohol use.
Chronic viral infections, hepatitis B and C are the common liver cancer risk factors. Hepatitis B results in chronic inflammation in the liver, and this may lead to the formation of liver cancer. Hepatitis C infection may cause cirrhosis that results in liver cancer. Chronic hepatitis B infection is the primary cause of liver cancer in Africa and Asia, while hepatitis C infection is the primary cause in Europe, North America, and Japan.
Liver cancer is commonly diagnosed in the elderly population. Only 3.1% of patients with liver cancer are under the age of 45 years. However, some forms of liver cancer, such as fibrolamellar carcinoma, are commonly diagnosed in individuals under 40 years of age. Some liver cancer types, such as hepatocellular carcinoma, are more common in men, while some types, such as fibrolamellar carcinoma, are more common in women.
People with a family history of liver cancer are at increased risk for developing this condition. A study reported four times increased risk of liver cancer in people with a sibling, parent, or child suffering from liver cancer.
Certain inherited conditions, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease, that affect the liver are also considered liver cancer risk factors. Hemochromatosis is a condition that involves abnormal accumulation of iron in the body, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Obese or very overweight people have an increased risk of fatty liver disease and cirrhosis due to fat accumulation and liver inflammation. This inflammation can become chronic and increase the risk of liver cancer.
Smoking also increases the risk of liver cancer. Studies have concluded that people who smoked and discontinued are at less risk of liver cancer than those who still smoke.
Heavy alcohol intake for a significant period results in cirrhosis and liver failure. Cirrhosis is an important liver cancer risk factor.
Aflatoxins are cancer-causing chemicals. The fungus produces these chemicals, contaminating wheat, peanuts, corn, groundnuts, and rice. Exposure to aflatoxins raises the liver cancer risk, especially in patients with hepatitis infection.
Certain rare conditions, such as tyrosinemia, porphyria cutanea tarda, alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, and glycogen storage diseases, are also identified as liver cancer risk factors.
“How to prevent liver cancer?” or “How to avoid liver cancer?” is a very important question. While it is important to know that there are no known ways to prevent liver cancer, there are some measures that one can take to reduce their risk of liver cancer:
Getting vaccinated for hepatitis B infection reduces the risk of getting the disease, lowers the chances of hepatitis B infection, and serves as an effective liver cancer preventive measure. People at increased risk for hepatitis B infection should undergo routine screening.
Preventing hepatitis C infection can help in the potential prevention of liver cancer. The preventive measures include avoiding unprotected sex, not injecting illegal drugs, and getting tattoos at clean shops.
When diagnosed with a hepatitis B or C infection, it is important to promptly see a doctor and receive the necessary treatment.
Limiting alcohol intake may increase the chances of liver cancer prevention. Moderate alcohol intake is ≤2 drinks per day for men and ≤1 drink per day for women. Limiting alcohol consumption lowers the risk of cirrhosis, which is also found to increase the risk of liver cancer.
Prevention of liver cancer can also be achieved by maintaining a healthy weight. If the patients are not overweight or obese, they should maintain their weight with healthy food and exercise habits. If the patients are obese or overweight, they need to lose weight by limiting calorie intake and increasing physical activity.
Our doctors often have people ask them how to prevent liver cancer naturally. Eating a healthy diet assists in optimal liver function and is an important measure that increases the chances of liver cancer prevention. Including fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet, especially fiber-rich foods, is helpful. Foods to fight liver cancer include eggs, beans, and soy. These may be included in the potential liver cancer prevention diet.
Reducing exposure to aflatoxins by avoiding contaminated food can lower one’s risk of developing liver cancer.
Exposure to certain toxins, such as thorium dioxide and vinyl chloride, raises the risk of liver cancer. Avoiding chronic exposure to these toxins can increase the chances of liver cancer prevention.
Quitting smoking can increase the chances of liver cancer prevention. Quitting smoking helps reduce inflammation and fat buildup in the liver, which are known to increase liver cancer risk.
Routine screening, especially in people with a high risk of liver cancer, helps diagnose and treat liver cancer at an early stage with favorable outcomes.
The most common liver cancer risk factors include chronic alcoholism, smoking, underlying chronic liver disease, exposure to aflatoxin, and genetic diseases. Measures that may increase the chances of liver cancer prevention include hepatitis vaccination, a healthy diet, weight management, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.