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A risk factor is anything that affects a person's chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors like smoking can be controlled. Others, like a person's age or family history, can't be changed. But risk factors don't tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that a person will get cancer. And some people who get the disease have few or no known risk factors.

The most common risk factors for liver cancer are:

  • Gender: this cancer is more common in men than women
  • Where you live: this cancer is much more common in countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia than in the United States.
  • Ethnicity: In the United States, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of liver cancer
  • Long-term infections with hepatitis B and/or C
  • Cirrhosis
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Being obese (very overweight)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain inherited conditions, such as hereditary hemochromatosis
  • Arsenic exposure, which can come from drinking water
  • Exposure to the solvent vinyl chloride
  • Using anabolic steroids
  • Tobacco use

For people who live outside the United States, exposure to aflatoxins, which can contaminate nuts and grains, is also a risk factor. So is infection with the parasitic worm that causes schistosomiasis, a disease that can affect the liver.

Last Medical Review: 11/19/2014
Last Revised: 02/23/2016