Patients develop liver cancer when liver cells begin to grow abnormally; though it’s not always clear why this happens, damage to DNA is thought to play a role. Even if scientists have not pinpointed the exact cause or causes of liver cancer, there are some known risk factors associated with this disease. They include:
- Gender: Men are more likely to develop primary liver cancer than women.
- Age: In the U.S. and Europe, liver cancer is commonly diagnosed around the age of 60. In Asia and Africa, diagnosis tends to take place when patients are younger, usually between the ages of 20 and 50.
- Chronic infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C: Hepatitis infections can damage liver cells and alter DNA, which researchers believe leads to cancer formation and development.
- Cirrhosis: This is a progressive, irreversible condition caused by alcoholism, hepatitis and exposure to environmental toxins that creates scar tissue in the liver and leads to liver cancer.
- Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes are more likely to develop liver cancer, especially if they also have hepatitis C.
- Exposure to aflatoxins: Aflatoxins are toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi in or on foods and animal feeds; crops such as corn, soybeans and peanuts may become contaminated with these toxins.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol: Drinking in excess can lead to irreversible liver damage and an increased risk of liver cancer.
- Smoking: Smokers, especially those who smoke for a long time and started smoking early in life, are more likely to develop liver cancer than individuals who do not smoke.