Risk Factors for Liver Cancer
A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer, but risk factors do not tell us everything. Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will definitely get liver cancer, and having no risk factors does not mean you cannot get it.
Studies have linked several factors to the risk for liver cancer:
- Chronic (long-term) hepatitis B virus infection or hepatitis C virus infection
- Heavy alcohol use
- Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver
- Inherited metabolic diseases
Screening Tests for Liver Cancer
Liver cancer often causes no symptoms at all. Because it is a “silent” cancer, it is very important to be screened regularly if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Liver cirrhosis
- Chronic hepatitis B virus infection or hepatitis virus C infection
- Exposure to certain toxins and chemicals, such as aflatoxin and polyvinyl chloride
- Family history of liver cancer
- Inherited liver diseases, such as hemochromatosis (an iron disorder), autoimmune hepatitis, and Wilson's disease (a rare inherited disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in vital organs)
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Screening for liver cancer usually involves blood tests and imaging studies.
- Blood tests are necessary to determine if there are high levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood, which could be a sign of liver cancer. Other blood tests can reflect how well the liver is working.
- Imaging tests, such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) or an ultrasound, allow your doctor to see tumors in the liver or elsewhere in the abdomen.
In rare cases, a liver biopsy may be needed, in which the doctor removes a sample of liver tissue and a pathologist examines it to look for cancer cells. In most cases, a liver biopsy is not needed to make the diagnosis of liver cancer; in fact, biopsies are often avoided if not necessary.