Liver cancer occurs when malignant hepatic tumors develop in the liver or outside the liver and spread (or metastasize) to nearby areas. The American Cancer Society estimate 42,220 reported cases of liver cancer in U.S. adults on a yearly basis. Although either gender can develop liver cancer, men are roughly 3 times more prone to a liver cancer diagnosis compared to women.
Like other cancers, many factors can trigger the development of liver cancer, and because the liver works as the body’s central filtration system, cancer cells from other areas (i.e., the gut) can become trapped within the liver and develop further. Still, while the exact cause of liver cancer is unknown, the following causes and risk factors can contribute to liver cancer:
1. Chronic liver disease
Liver cancer is most common in individuals with underlying chronic liver disease. For instance, liver disease, such as hemochromatosis, are typically inherited. Hemochromatosis occurs when excessive iron accumulates in the liver. However, liver cancer may also develop in rarer instances due to tyrosinemia or alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which are both genetically inherited conditions.
2. Long term alcohol use
Alcohol has long been linked to the development of alcoholic cirrhosis and, eventually, liver cancer. While excessive alcohol abuse is the main culprit of cirrhosis, scar tissue may form within the liver and develop as cancer in patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (or NASH), as well as in patients with chronic hepatitis B and C.
3. Anabolic steroid use
Long-term abuse of anabolic steroids can cause a multitude of variety of health problems, especially liver issues. For instance, research conducted by hepatologists at the University of Connecticut Medical Center, in Farmington, Connecticut indicate that anabolic steroids derived from male hormones to boost muscle mass have well known negative side effects, including liver damage, which over time, may heighten the risk of liver cancer development.
While alcohol may receive the majority of slack when it comes to liver cancer contribution, tobacco usage also greatly impacts liver cancer development, especially in patients with chronic liver disease. A 2011 study published by the National Institutes of Health found that smoking increased the rates of liver cancer significantly. In fact, almost 50% of all liver cancer patients are smokers.
As with many other chronic conditions, obesity can significantly increases the risk of fatty liver disease, or hepatic steatosis, which is an excessive buildup of fat in the liver. Too much fat in the liver can lead to long-term liver damage, which may progress to chronic inflammation of the liver (steatohepatitis), liver scarring, liver disease, and liver cancer.