Causes and risk factors of liver cancer
We do not know the exact cause of liver cancer (HCC). But certain things called risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing it. Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer. And not having any risk factors does not guarantee that you will not.
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Risk factors for HCC include the following:
People who have cirrhosis have a higher risk of getting HCC. Cirrhosis is scarring all over the liver. It damages the liver and stops it working properly.
The risk factors for cirrhosis include:
Drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time can cause cirrhosis.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
This is when fat builds up in the liver and causes damage.
This is an inherited condition that causes iron levels to build up in the body. If diagnosed and treated early, it does not usually cause problems.
Primary biliary cirrhosis (also called primary biliary cholangiopathy)
This is when the body’s immune system, which normally fights infection, slowly destroys the small bile ducts in the liver. Bile ducts are the tubes that connect the liver and gall bladder to the small bowel.
People with metabolic syndrome have a higher risk of developing HCC.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that occur together.
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar
- high levels of unhealthy fats (triglycerides) in the blood
- extra fat around the tummy area (abdomen).
A poison called aflatoxin, found in mouldy peanuts and grains, is a major risk factor for HCC in parts of Africa and Asia.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our primary liver cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Melloul E, Hübner M, Scott M, et al. Guidelines for perioperative care for liver surgery: Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) Society recommendations. World J Surg. 2016; 40: 2425–2440. Available from: doi.org/10.1007/s00268-016-3700-1 [accessed Feb 2020]
NICE. Lenvatinib for untreated advanced hepatocellular carcinoma: Technology appraisal guidance (TA 551) [Internet]. 2018. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/TA551 [accessed Feb 2020]
NICE. Liver disease. Quality standard (QS 152) [Internet]. 2017. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/QS152 [accessed Feb 2020]
NICE. Liver cancers overview [Internet]. 2019. Available from: pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/liver-cancers/liver-cancers-overview [accessed Feb 2020]
NICE. Regorafenib for previously treated advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. Technology appraisal guidance (TA555) [Internet]. 2019. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta555 [accessed Feb 2020]
Vogel A, Cervantes A, Chau I, et al. Hepatocellular carcinoma: ESMO Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2018; 29 (S4): iv238–iv255. Available from doi.org/10.1093/annonc/mdy510 [accessed Feb 2020]
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Dr Paul Ross, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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