What Causes Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in the liver — the large, football-shaped organ that sits below the chest on the right side of the body. About 10,000 women and 24,500 men develop liver cancer in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The exact cause of liver cancer is unknown in most cases. Cancer in general forms when cells in the body grow uncontrollably as a result of changes (mutations) in cellular DNA. What triggers these mutations is still unclear, although a combination of behavioral, genetic and lifestyle factors are believed to play a role in cancer development.
Does alcohol cause liver cancer?
There is a noteworthy link between alcohol and liver cancer. Research shows that heavy, long-term alcohol consumption can damage the liver by causing scarring and inflammation, thereby increasing the likelihood of cancer.
The risk of liver cancer can be reduced by cutting back on drinking or avoiding alcohol altogether. The CDC recommends for adults of legal age to either avoid drinking or limit alcohol consumption to:
- One drink or less per day for women
- Two drinks or less per day for men
A "drink" is defined as:
- Twelve ounces of beer
- Eight ounces of malt liquor
- Five ounces of wine
- One and a half ounces of a distilled spirit, such as vodka, rum or whisky
Generally speaking, the more alcohol a person drinks, the higher his or her risk is for liver cancer and other malignancies like breast, colorectal, throat and mouth cancers.
Are there other risk factors for liver cancer?
A risk factor is a characteristic or behavior that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing liver cancer, but it does not mean that cancer is certain to occur. Conversely, it’s possible to develop liver cancer without having any established risk factors.
Researchers have identified multiple risk factors for liver cancer in addition to heavy alcohol consumption. These include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking cigarettes
- Having a chronic hepatitis B or C infection, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes or hemochromatosis
- Having cirrhosis (liver scarring), which can result from heavy alcohol use or a chronic hepatitis infection
- Using anabolic steroids (a type of artificial testosterone) for an extended period
Liver cancer diagnostics & treatment at Moffitt
Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program is home to a multispecialty team that excels in treating complex and uncommon liver cancers. Florida’s top cancer hospital, Moffitt provides easily accessible diagnostic services as well as tailored treatment plans and supportive care programs to patients under one roof. Our patients also have access to a trailblazing clinical trial program aimed at expanding liver cancer treatment options and improving clinical outcomes. Moffitt’s commitment to research is evidenced by our status as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—currently, we are the only Florida-based cancer center to hold this distinction.
If you would like to discuss your liver cancer risk factors, symptoms or treatment options with a Moffitt physician, complete a new patient registration form online or call 1-888-663-3488. Timing is key when it comes to cancer care, and Moffitt is improving the model for good by connecting patients with specialists in 24 hours or less.