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What Causes Liver Cancer?

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jun 10, 2021

What Causes Liver Cancer?

Liver cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer in the Philippines, and it’s the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths. What causes liver cancer symptoms and what can make a person more at risk of developing this aggressive disease?

How the Liver Works

Each organ in the body plays an important function, and the liver is no exception. Despite usually only weighing around 1.5 kilograms, the cone-shaped organ is responsible for over 500 vital functions that are imperative for the proper functioning of the body. Some of these critical functions include:

  • Disposing of waste in the body through the production of bile.
  • Breaks down medication to make it easier for the body to process.
  • Stores iron that is needed for the production of blood.

Acquiring a disease or illness like liver cancer can severely impair the normal functioning of the liver, affecting the entire body.

Liver cancer can either start in the cells of the liver (primary liver cancer) or result from cancer from other organs spreading to nearby tissue (metastatic liver cancer).

what causes liver cancer symptoms

What Causes Liver Cancer?

The exact cause of liver cancer remains unknown. However, what is generally known  is that it’s caused by the rapid development of abnormal cells. This eventually results in damage to the normal and healthy cells.

Cancer cells can result from a mutation in the DNA of the cell itself. This causes a malfunction in the way the cell carries out its essential functions. Scientists are still unsure about why these mutations take place.

However, risk factors for the different types of cancers like liver cancer have already been identified.

what causes liver cancer symptoms

Risk Factors of Liver Cancer

Risk factors are behaviors, types of foods, existing pre-conditions, or anything that increases your risk of acquiring diseases such as liver cancer.

Some risk factors associated with liver cancer can’t be changed, but some can be controlled. It’s important to learn about the risk factors of liver cancer, especially if you’re concerned about avoiding this disease in the future.

Risk factors of liver cancer include the following.


Men are more at risk of developing liver cancer because they’re more susceptible to developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most frequently observed form of liver cancer. This most commonly occurs in people with chronic liver scarring, or liver cirrhosis.

Experts believe that men are more prone to developing liver cancer because they’re more inclined to engaging in habits and activities that cause damage and scarring to the liver.

Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C Infections

Liver cirrhosis, which is one of the leading causes of primary liver cancer, can result from scarring caused by Hepatitis B (HBV) or Hepatitis C (HCV) virus infections. An estimated 80% of liver cancer cases around the world have resulted from HBV or HCV infections.

Hepatitis is characterized by inflammation in the liver, and has 5 different types depending on the virus that caused it. Hepatitis B is transmitted through infected bodily fluids like blood or semen. And Hepatitis C is primarily passed on through infected blood.

HBC or HCV is one of the risk factors of liver cancer because of how the disease can lead to scarring of the liver tissue over a long period of time. HCV has shown to create a higher risk of liver cancer because of the lack of symptoms present once you have this disease.

Liver Cirrhosis 

Liver cirrhosis can result from all types of behavior and habits, and even medical conditions. Once a liver is scarred, or has cirrhosis, the cells in the liver become damaged.

Most people with liver cancer have some degree of scarring on their livers. 

Liver cirrhosis can be caused by alcohol abuse, cystic fibrosis, hepatitis, and other conditions.

Alcohol Abuse and Smoking

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are both behaviors that have a negative overall effect on a person’s health and wellbeing. Alcohol abuse can significantly increase a person’s risk of liver cancer, as long time drinking can lead to damage and scarring on the liver. 

Meanwhile, cigarettes contain a myriad of harmful chemicals that negatively affects the body’s production of iron. Excessive iron can cause a problem in the liver called hemochromatosis.

This condition also increases a person’s risk of developing liver cancer.


Diabetes results from high blood sugar levels. This happens when there is too much glucose in the blood, which can come from the food you eat.

Diabetes is linked to an increased risk of liver cancer, because people who have diabetes are more susceptible to developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NFLD) can cause a build-up of fat in the liver which can lead to liver cirrhosis, one of the primary risk factors of liver cancer.

Diabetes: Everything you need to know


Some agricultural crops, like cottonseed, tree nuts, and corn contain cancer-causing substances called aflatoxins. A person can be exposed to aflatoxins by ingesting infected food or eating meat that comes from cattle. It can also be transmitted through inhaling dust from the processing of food with aflatoxins.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the male hormone, testosterone. These are used to treat a variety of health conditions such as hormonal problems.

However, anabolic steroids are also used by some athletes to build muscle. Long time use of anabolic steroids is linked to a higher risk of liver cancer.

Key Takeaways

Learning more about the cause and risk factors associated with liver cancer can help you determine the habits you want to cut out of your life, for the sake of your health.

Early detection of some of the diseases linked to liver cancer, like hepatitis is imperative for preventing liver cancer and other diseases.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jun 10, 2021

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