What Is the Main Cause of Liver Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/23/2021

The exact cause of liver cancer is not known. Researchers have revealed that liver cancer occurs when the cells in the liver grow uncontrollably because of an abnormal change in their genetic material (mutation).
The exact cause of liver cancer is not known. Researchers have revealed that liver cancer occurs when the cells in the liver grow uncontrollably because of an abnormal change in their genetic material (mutation).

The exact cause of liver cancer is not known. Researchers have revealed that liver cancer occurs when the cells in the liver grow uncontrollably because of an abnormal change in their genetic material (mutation). Scientists have made progress in understanding the role of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in causing normal cells to become cancer. DNA is the source of instructions for everything that our cells do.

DNA consists of genes that are responsible for providing instructions to control when our cells grow and divide. Two types of genes are associated with cancer development:

  1. Oncogenes: These genes promote cell division
  2. Tumor suppressor genes: These genes slow down cell division or make cells die at the right time.

DNA mutations causing the activation of oncogenes and inactivation of tumor suppressor genes can lead to cancer.

Besides, certain chemicals (such as aflatoxin) may damage the DNA in the liver cells. For example, studies have shown that aflatoxin can damage the TP53 tumor suppressor genes, leading to increased abnormal cells and cancer.

Also, hepatitis viruses can get inside the DNA of the cell in the liver and turn on the cell’s oncogenes.

What is liver cancer?

Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the liver. The different types of liver cancer are

  • Primary liver cancer: This cancer starts in the liver. Primary liver cancer is of different types:
  • Secondary liver cancer (metastatic liver cancer): Cancer originating in other parts of the body that spreads (metastasized) to the liver.
  • Benign liver tumors: Noncancerous tumors may grow large enough to cause problems, but they do not invade nearby tissues.

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Which factors can increase the risk of liver cancer?

Several factors can increase a person’s chance of getting hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

Gender

HCC is more common in men than in women.

Race/ethnicity

In the United States, races with the highest risk are presented in descending order

  • Asian-Americans
  • Pacific Islanders
  • Hispanics/Latinos
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • African American
  • Whites

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis causes scarring of the liver cells. People with cirrhosis are at an increased risk of liver cancer.

Chronic viral hepatitis

Chronic hepatitis infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common risk factor for liver cancer. These infections can cause cirrhosis of the liver. These viruses make liver cancer the most common cancer in many parts of the world.

In the United States, infection with HCV is more common, whereas, in Asia and other developing countries, HBV is more common.

Inherited metabolic disease

Certain hereditary conditions, such as inherited hemochromatosis, can lead to liver cancer. Hemochromatosis is a condition where the body absorbs excess iron from food. The extra iron settles in tissues throughout the body, including the liver. If the liver is overloaded with iron, it can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Heavy alcohol use

Heavy and harmful drinking is the primary cause of cirrhosis in the United States. Cirrhosis, in turn, increases the person’s risk of getting liver cancer.

Tobacco use

Smoking has been known to increase the risk of many cancers, including liver cancers. Smokers or passive smokers are known to be at higher risk of developing liver cancer.

Obesity

Obesity is associated with fatty liver disease and cirrhosis, both of which contribute to liver cancer.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes accompanied by various other factors has been shown to increase the risk of liver cancer. Other factors include

Rare diseases

Diseases that increase the risk of liver disease include

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References
American Cancer Society. Liver Cancer Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/liver-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html

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