Can Liver Cancer Be Prevented?

Many liver cancers could be prevented by reducing exposure to known risk factors for this disease.

Avoid and treat hepatitis B and C infections

Worldwide, the most significant risk factor for liver cancer is chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). These viruses can spread from person to person through sharing contaminated needles (such as in drug use) through unprotected sex, and through childbirth, so some liver cancers may be avoided by not sharing needles and by using safer sex practices (such as always using condoms).

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children, as well as adults at risk get the HBV vaccine to reduce the risk of hepatitis and liver cancer. There is no vaccine for HCV. Preventing HCV infection, as well as HBV infection in people who have not been immunized, is based on understanding how these infections occur.

Blood transfusions were once a major source of hepatitis infection as well. But because blood banks in the United States test donated blood to look for these viruses, the risk of getting a hepatitis infection from a blood transfusion is extremely low.

People at high risk for HBV or HCV should be tested for these infections so they can be watched for liver disease and treated if needed.

The CDC recommends that you get tested for HCV if any of the following are true:

  • You were born from 1945 through 1965 (this is because most of the people in the US that are infected with HCV were born in these years)
  • You ever injected drugs (even just once or a long time ago)
  • You needed medicine for a blood clotting problem before 1987
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992 (when blood and organs started being screened for HCV)
  • You were or are on long-term hemodialysis
  • You are infected with HIV
  • You might have been exposed to Hepatitis C in the last 6 months through sex or sharing needles during drug use

Treatment of chronic HCV infection can eliminate the virus in many people and may lower the risk of liver cancer.

A number of drugs are used to treat chronic HBV. These drugs reduce the number of viruses in the blood and lessen liver damage. Although the drugs don't cure the disease, they lower the risk of cirrhosis and may lower the risk of liver cancer, as well.

Limit alcohol and tobacco use

Drinking alcohol can lead to cirrhosis, which in turn, can lead to liver cancer. Not drinking alcohol or drinking in moderation could help prevent liver cancer.

Since smoking also increases the risk of liver cancer, not smoking will also prevent some of these cancers. If you smoke, quitting will help lower your risk of this cancer, as well as many other cancers and life-threatening diseases.

Get to and stay 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.

Limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals

Changing the way certain grains are stored in tropical and subtropical countries could reduce exposure to cancer-causing substances such as aflatoxins. Many developed countries already have regulations to prevent and monitor grain contamination.

Treat diseases that increase liver cancer risk

Certain inherited diseases can cause cirrhosis of the liver, increasing a person’s risk for liver cancer. Finding and treating these diseases early in life could lower this risk. For example, all children in families with hemochromatosis should be screened for the disease and treated if they have it. Treatment regularly removes small amounts of blood to lower the amount of excess iron in the body.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Medical Review: April 1, 2019 Last Revised: April 1, 2019

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