A liver cancer risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting liver cancer. Different types of cancer have different risk factors. Some risk factors can be controlled such as smoking. On the other hand, age and family history cannot be changed, which means that some risk factors are there permanently and you can do nothing to change them.
Although risk factors are very important in the diagnosis of liver cancer, they do not tell many details about your cancer. Doctors cannot also use them as the basis for the causes of liver cancer. Having a certain risk factor or multiple risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will get liver cancer. In some cases, individuals who have a few or no risk factors may get the disease. On the other hand, individuals who are subjected to a lot of the risk factors may not get liver cancer at all. Scientific research has come up with several risk factors that are likely to increase your risk of getting liver cancer. They are:
Cirrhosis is a complication of the liver where the liver cells get damaged and are replaced by a scar tissue. It has been found that people who have liver cirrhosis have an increased risk of developing liver cancer. The major causes of liver cirrhosis are excessive alcohol drinking and chronic hepatitis B and C infections.
According to statistics, liver cancer is very common in males compared to females. The prevalence of liver cancer among men may be as a result of a certain behavior that is more common in men compared to women such as excessive alcohol drinking. However, a certain sub-type of liver cancer known as fibrolamellar cancer is very common in women than men.
Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC)
Some autoimmune diseases such as primary biliary cirrhosis can affect the liver and also cause liver cirrhosis. PBC causes damage to the bile ducts that are found in the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis. People who have advanced cases of PBC have an increased risk of getting liver cancer.
Race or Ethnicity
Some specific races such as those in the United States, Pacific, and Asian Americans, have been found to have a high number of liver cancer cases. Other races that have an increased risk of getting liver cancer are:
- American Indians
- Alaska natives
- Hispanics or Latinos
- White Africans
- African Americans
Excessive Alcohol Drinking
Heavy alcohol consumption is one of the greatest risk factors that accelerate the development of liver cancer. Alcohol abuse has been linked to other liver infections such as liver cirrhosis and hepatitis C that can increase the risk of developing liver cancer as well.
Cigarette and tobacco smoking have been found to increase the risk of liver cancer development. People who have either hepatitis B or C have an increased risk of getting liver cancer if they smoke. Former smokers are found to have a lower risk than the current tobacco smokers, but both parties have a higher risk of liver cancer development compared to the non-smokers.
Hepatitis B and C
Chronic viral infections of hepatitis B and C have been found to be the greatest and common risk factor in liver cancer development. Chronic or long-term infection of hepatitis B or C viruses can lead to other liver complications such as cirrhosis. These viruses are responsible for making liver cancer one of the most common cancers that affect many people around the globe. For example, in the United States, hepatitis C has been found to be the most common cause of liver cancer. In Asia and other third world countries, hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver cancer.
Fatty Liver Disease
Having a non-alcoholic fat liver disease is another risk factor that can accelerate the development of liver cancer. This disease usually develops in individuals who drink little or no alcohol at all. This type of liver disease is also common among obese individuals. People with a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are likely to develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) that can go on to cause liver cirrhosis. If these factors are combined together, your risk of developing liver cancer will be increased.
Inherited Metabolic Diseases
Some inherited metabolic disorders such as hereditary hemochromatosis can cause liver cirrhosis. This metabolic disease is characterized by the deposition of iron salts in all the body organs including the liver. If enough iron settles in the liver, it can cause liver cirrhosis that can, in turn, lead to liver cancer.
Aflatoxins are cancer-causing chemicals produced by a fungus that grows on moldy grains such as corn, rice, wheat, soybeans, and groundnuts. This chemical is produced by a fungus growing in cereals or grains that are stored in a warm and moist environment. Aflatoxin-causing cancer is very common in developing countries, as well as warmer and tropical countries. According to research, a long-term exposure to aflatoxins can be one of the major risk factors of developing liver cancer. The risk with aflatoxins gets increased on individuals with hepatitis B and C.
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing liver cancer. Obesity has been found to cause many liver diseases such as cirrhosis that will likely boost your chances of getting liver cancer.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease that has been linked to liver cancer. This type of diabetes has also been linked to other factors such as alcohol abuse and viral hepatitis infections. Having diagnosed with type 2 diabetes will likely increase your risk of liver cancer since it causes obesity, which in turn, lead to other liver diseases and problems.
Certain rare infections or diseases are linked to liver cancer development. They include:
- Wilson's disease
- porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
- glycogen storage diseases
- alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
Some parasitic infections such as schistosomiasis can cause liver damage. Having this disease can increase your risk of developing liver cancer. The parasite that causes schistosomiasis is mostly found in poor areas with tropical and subtropical climates. It causes infections in Asia, South America, and Africa.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical that contaminates water bodies. Arsenic has been found to increase the risk of liver cancer development. Arsenic contamination is common in parts of Asia and the United States.
These steroids are made of male hormones and are mostly used by weight lifters and athletes to burn up fat and develop lean muscles. Long-term usage of anabolic steroids has been found to increase the risk of liver cancer. However, there is no liver cancer risk when using cortisone-like steroids such as prednisone, dexamethasone, and hydrocortisone.
Thorotrast and Vinyl Chloride
Exposure to vinyl chloride and thorotrast have been linked to the development of liver angiosarcoma. These chemicals are also found to cause hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma at the same time. Thorotrast is a chemical that was injected in patients as a part of an x-ray imaging test in the past. Vinyl chloride, on the other hand, is a chemical that is mainly used in making plastics.
Birth Control Pills
In rare cases, birth control pills, which are also called oral contraceptives, can cause benign liver tumors known as "hepatic adenomas." It has not yet been confirmed if these pills can increase the risk of developing a hepatocellular carcinoma.
The Bottom Line
There are several factors that likely increase your risk of liver cancer development. Scientists are still conducting more research, trying to look at other possible factors that cause liver cancer. Although there is no proven way to control or prevent this type of cancer, avoiding or lowering risk factors can be one important step to prevent liver cancer.