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Cause of Liver Cancer

Although the exact liver cancer causes are not known, researchers have identified certain risk factors for the disease. While such risk factors do not directly cause the disease, they may increase a person's chance of developing it. Risk factors for liver cancer include such things as having a hepatitis infection, being male, having a family history of liver cancer, and eating foods tainted with aflatoxin.

What Causes Liver Cancer?

No one knows the exact cause of liver cancer. Doctors can seldom explain why one person gets liver cancer and another person does not. However, research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop liver cancer. (A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.)

Know the Risk Factors

Researchers have found a number of risk factors for liver cancer. While a risk factor is not a cause of liver cancer, it may increase a person's chances of developing the disease. These liver cancer risk factors may act together to increase the risk even more. Specific liver cancer risk factors include:
  • Having a chronic liver infection (such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C)
  • Having cirrhosis
  • Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin (poison from a mold that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts, that have not been stored properly)
  • Being male
  • Having a family history of liver cancer
  • Age (In the U.S., liver cancer occurs more often in people over 60 than in younger people.).
Having a Chronic Liver Infection
Certain viruses can infect the liver. The infection may be chronic (it may not go away). The most important risk factor for liver cancer is a chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus or the hepatitis C virus. These viruses can be passed from person to person through the blood (such as by sharing needles) or through sexual contact. An infant may catch these viruses from an infected mother. Liver cancer can develop after many years of infection with the virus.
These infections may not cause symptoms, but blood tests can show whether either virus is present. If so, the doctor may suggest treatment. Also, the doctor may discuss ways of avoiding infecting other people.
In people who are not already infected with hepatitis B virus, hepatitis B vaccine can prevent chronic hepatitis B infection and may protect against liver cancer. Researchers are now working to develop a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection.
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