“About 90 percent of hepatocellular carcinomas [primary liver cancers] arise in patients with liver disease,” says Mario Strazzabosco, MD, PhD, the director and clinical program leader of the Smilow Liver Cancer Program at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. “Most of the time the patient has advanced liver disease — cirrhosis.”
Risk Factors for Liver Cancer
Researchers have identified several risk factors that increase a person’s chances of developing liver cancer.
“Often, a patient presents with more than one risk factor and risk increases exponentially with the number of risk factors,” says Dr. Strazzabosco.
- Cirrhosis of the liver, chronic hepatitis B, or hepatitis C
- Overweight or obesity
- Certain inherited diseases, such as Wilson’s disease (a rare disorder that causes copper poisoning) or hemochromatosis (a buildup of excess iron in the liver)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Foods that contain aflatoxin (a fungus that can grow on grains and nuts that haven’t been properly stored)
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (an accumulation of fat in the liver)
- Age older than 60
“An important concept is that by addressing these risk factors, it would be possible to drastically reduce the incidence of [liver cancer],” says Strazzabosco. “There are also well-defined protocols for oncologic [cancer-preventing] surveillance in patients with identified risk factors. Unfortunately, these recommendations are not always followed.”