Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Cancer) Prevention

Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another doesn't. However, scientists have studied general patterns of cancer in the population to learn what things around us and what things we do in our lives may increase our chance of developing cancer.

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor; anything that decreases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a protective factor. Some of the risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, although you can choose to quit smoking, you cannot choose which genes you have inherited from your parents. Both smoking and inheriting specific genes could be considered risk factors for certain kinds of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Prevention means avoiding the risk factors and increasing the protective factors that can be controlled so that the chance of developing cancer decreases.

Although many risk factors can be avoided, it is important to keep in mind that avoiding risk factors does not guarantee that you will not get cancer. Also, most people with a particular risk factor for cancer do not actually get the disease. Some people are more sensitive than others are to factors that can cause cancer. Talk to your doctor about methods of preventing cancer that might be effective for you.

Purposes of this summary on liver cancer prevention

The purposes of this summary on hepatocellular cancer screening are to:

  • Give information on hepatocellular cancer and what makes it more likely to occur (risk factors).
  • Describe hepatocellular cancer screening methods and what is known about their effectiveness.

You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer screening and whether it would be likely to help you.

Hepatocellular Cancer Screening

Hepatocellular cancer is cancer that arises in the liver rather than cancer that has spread to the liver from another organ in the body. The liver is one of the largest organs in the body, filling the upper right side of the abdomen and protected by the rib cage. The liver has many functions. It has an important role in converting food into energy and in filtering and storing blood.

Risk of hepatocellular cancer

Hepatocellular cancer is not a common cancer in the United States, however it is the fourth most common cancer in the world.

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Some of these risk factors for hepatocellular cancer are as follows:

  • Sex: In the United States, men, especially Chinese American men, have a greater risk of developing hepatocellular cancer.
  • Hepatitis: Chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C increase a person's risk of developing hepatocellular cancer. The risk is even greater when a person is infected with both hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
  • Cirrhosis: People who have cirrhosis are at risk of developing hepatocellular cancer.
  • Metabolism Disorders: Some metabolism disorders may also increase the risk of hepatocellular cancer. An example is excess accumulation of iron in the liver (hemochromatosis ).

Screening tests for hepatocellular cancer

A routine effective screening test for hepatocellular cancer has not yet been developed. Screening trials using ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and blood tests are ongoing.

Source: National Cancer Institute,

Last Editorial Review: 1/5/2006