Can liver cancer be prevented?
Many liver cancers could be prevented by reducing exposures to known risk factors for this disease.
Avoiding and treating hepatitis infections
Worldwide, the biggest risk factor for liver cancer is infection with the hepatitis B or C virus. There is a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B. All children, as well as adults at high risk, should get this vaccine.
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Preventing hepatitis C (and hepatitis B in people who have not had the vaccine) is based on knowing how it spreads. The viruses are spread through blood transfusions, from sharing dirty needles (as in drug use), by having unprotected sex, and through childbirth. In the United States the risk of getting a hepatitis infection from a blood transfusion is very low.
Hepatitis C infections can often be cured with drug treatment for about 6 months, but this can be hard to take. Drugs can also be used to help treat hepatitis B, but they do not cure it. Whether these drugs help prevent liver cancer is under study. If you have hepatitis B or C you should talk to your doctor about these drugs.
Limiting alcohol and tobacco use
In the United States, alcohol abuse is a major cause of cirrhosis, which can lead to liver cancer. Preventing liver cancers linked with alcohol abuse remains a challenge.
Quitting smoking might also slightly lower the risk of liver cancer, as well as many other life-threatening diseases.
Getting to and staying at a healthy weight
Avoiding obesity might be another way to help protect against liver cancer. People who are obese are more likely to have fatty liver disease and diabetes, both of which have been linked to liver cancer.
Food and chemical safety
Changing the way certain grains are stored in warm countries could reduce exposure to cancer-causing substances like aflatoxins. Many modern countries have rules to keep grains safe. They also have laws to protect people from certain cancer-causing chemicals.
Treating diseases that increase liver cancer risk
Certain inherited diseases can cause cirrhosis of the liver, increasing the risk for liver cancer. Finding and treating these diseases early in life could lower this risk.
Last Medical Review: 07/19/2012
Last Revised: 01/23/2013