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Risk Factors - Liver Cancer

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease, such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person′s age or family history, can′t be changed.

But risk factors don′t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Scientists have found several risk factors that make a person more likely to develop hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Gender

Hepatocellular carcinoma is much more common in males than in females. Much of this is probably because of behaviors affecting some of the risk factors described below. The fibrolamellar subtype of HCC is more common in women.

Chronic viral hepatitis

Worldwide, the most common risk factor for liver cancer is chronic (long-term) infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV). These infections lead to cirrhosis of the liver (see above) and are responsible for making liver cancer the most common cancer in many parts of the world.

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a disease in which liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue. People with cirrhosis have an increased risk of liver cancer. Most (but not all) people who develop liver cancer already have some evidence of cirrhosis.

There are several possible causes of cirrhosis. Most cases in the United States occur in people who abuse alcohol or have chronic HBV or HCV infections.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which people who consume little or no alcohol develop a fatty liver, is common in obese people. People with a type of this disease known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) might go on to develop cirrhosis.

Heavy alcohol use

Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States, which in turn is linked with an increased risk of liver cancer.

Obesity

Being obese (very overweight) increases the risk of developing liver cancer. This is probably because it can result in fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has been linked with an increased risk of liver cancer, usually in patients who also have other risk factors such as heavy alcohol use and/or chronic viral hepatitis. This risk may be increased because people with type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight or obese, which in turn can cause liver problems.

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