Personal History

Some diseases put you at greater risk for liver cancer:

Chronic hepatitis infections

Chronic, or long-term, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections are the most common risk factors for liver cancer, and are the primary reasons the disease is so widespread outside of the United States. Overall, chronic hepatitis B infections are responsible for about 80% of all primary liver cancer cases worldwide, and chronic hepatitis C infections account for the majority of the remaining cases. Hepatitis A does not lead to the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 3.2 million Americans are living with chronic hepatitis C, and approximately 1.2 million are living with chronic hepatitis B.

Words to Know

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. It also refers to a range of viral infections, the most common of which are hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis is typically spread by using contaminated needles, having unprotected sex with someone who is infected, and receiving impure blood through a transfusion — though contracting hepatitis in this way is rare in the US. The viruses can also be passed from mother to child during childbirth.

While HCV is most common in the US, people are more likely to contract HBV in developing countries. Hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, which is another major risk factor for liver cancer.

Though there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, you can get vaccinated for hepatitis B. Taking this precautionary step will dramatically lower your chances of developing liver cancer.


Cirrhosis is an irreversible disease that causes the scarring of healthy liver cells and can compromise the liver’s ability to function. Cirrhosis can also lead to liver cancer. Excessive alcohol use, chronic hepatitis C infection, and, increasingly, obesity, are the leading causes of cirrhosis, though a number of other diseases and infections can also cause the disease. Cirrhosis generally develops in response to chronic problems that damage the liver progressively over time, as opposed to short-term issues. Most people with cirrhosis exhibit more than one risk factor for the disease.

Certain inherited diseases

Hemochromatosis, autoimmune hepatitis, and Wilson disease are all inherited diseases that increase the risk of getting liver cancer.

Words to Know

Your immune system protects your body by fighting against viruses, bacteria, and other organisms. Autoimmunity means that your body starts attacking its own cells.

Inherited hemochromatosis is a disease caused by the mutation of the HFE gene, which helps to regulate the amount of iron your body absorbs from the food you eat. The mutation of HFE can cause people to absorb and store too much iron, which can lead to a range of health problems, including liver cancer, and, if left untreated, liver, pancreas, and heart failure.

Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic disease where the body attacks liver cells. While it is unclear exactly why people develop the disease, it can be controlled with certain treatments and is best managed when found early.

Wilson disease, sometimes called Wilson’s disease, causes excessive build up of copper, an essential mineral. While the body needs some copper, which is obtained through foods, too much can lead to liver cancer, among other serious problems of the liver, brain, heart, eyes, and other organs. Wilson disease is a genetic disorder — people who have the disease inherit a mutated copy of the ATP7B gene from each parent. There are treatments available that help control Wilson disease.

Diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million Americans are currently living with diabetes. The majority have what’s known as Type II diabetes, where the body either does not produce enough insulin, or it doesn’t use the insulin it does make. About 5% to 10% of people with diabetes have Type I, which means that the pancreas doesn’t create insulin at all. Most people with Type I are diagnosed as children or young adults.

Having diabetes can increase your risk of developing liver cancer, though it tends more often to affect those who also have other risk factors, such as hepatitis and/or excessive drinking habits.

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