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News » Filed under: Liver Cancer

Study: Smoking Dramatically Increases Liver Cancer Risk

Article date: November 2, 2011

By Stacy Simon

A new study reinforces the link between liver cancer and the risk factors of smoking, obesity, and heavy drinking.

Researchers from the US and Europe studied 125 liver cancer patients to determine what risk factors were contributing to their disease. They compared them to 229 people without cancer who were matched by age, gender and other factors. The participants were all part of a European study group that was formed so researchers could investigate the role of biological, dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors in the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.

They found that almost half the cases of liver cancer in the study were associated with smoking, 16% were associated with obesity and 10% were associated with heavy alcohol consumption. Almost 21% of cases were associated with hepatitis C and 13% with hepatitis B.

The most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, is a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. In many sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asian countries, it is the most common type of cancer. It’s less common in the United States. Worldwide, the major risk factors for liver cancer are long-term infections with hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus. People with these infections are more likely to develop cirrhosis, a disease in which liver cells become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue. People with cirrhosis have an increased risk of liver cancer. In the US, most liver cancer is associated with alcohol-related cirrhosis and possibly non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

In an accompanying editorial, Morris Sherman, MD and Josep M. Llovet, MD clarify that smoking by itself does not cause liver cancer, but that it dramatically increases the risk, especially for people who have other risk factors, such as hepatitis B or C virus.

They conclude, “We should be counseling our patients who have other risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma to quit smoking.”

Of course, there are also many other reasons to quit smoking. Worldwide, there are an estimated 5.4 million smoking-related premature deaths each year. Tobacco use accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths. Besides lung cancer, tobacco use increases risk for cancers of the lungs, mouth, lips, nose and sinuses, voice box, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, and cervix, as well as the blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia.

For help with quitting smoking, call us at 1-800-227-2345 or see our Guide to Quitting Smoking and the other resources at cancer.org/smokeout.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

Citation: Hepatocellular Carcinoma Risk Factors and Disease Burden in a European Cohort: A Nested Case-Control Study. Published online October 21 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. First author: Dimitrios Trichopoulos, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health.

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