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These Popular Habits Lead to Liver Cancer

Five things that increase your risk of liver cancer, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

According to the American Cancer Society, liver cancer rates have more than tripled—and death rates have doubled—since 1980. "People with liver failure are more likely to develop liver cancer," says gastroenterologist Carlos Romero-Marrero, MD. "But, most aren't even aware of what causes liver failure, much less the symptoms." Here are five popular habits that can lead to liver cancer, experts say. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Excessive Alcohol Consumption

alcoholic beverages

Drinking too much alcohol is strongly linked to liver cancer, doctors say. "There is clearly a link, but alcohol itself does not cause cancer in the liver," says Roderich Schwarz, MD, PhD, Co-Director of Roswell Park's Liver and Pancreas Tumor Center. "Alcohol can cause chronic liver damage, including cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, which is one of the conditions that can increase the risk or likelihood of liver cancer… When you look at the general population, people with liver damage are dying of liver failure at a much higher rate than liver cancer. So the cancer risk does go up with excessive drinking, but we don't say, 'Excessive drinking is bad because of your risk of liver cancer.' We say, 'Excessive drinking is bad for your liver.' Period."


Anabolic Steroids

Testosterone boosters

Use of anabolic steroids has been linked to liver cancer in athletes, according to sports medicine physician Dr. Bob Goldman who wrote a case report published by the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. "I strongly believe that the use of anabolic steroids played an integral part in these athletes' deaths," Dr. Goldman says. "I'm saying that scientifically this is what it appears to be. The only time you can be sure about the cause of any death is if you actually see someone get struck by a car."


Unprotected Sex

couple in live holding hads while lying in bed together

Unprotected sex can lead to getting infected with viruses that attack the liver. "Worldwide, the most common risk factor for liver cancer is chronic (long-term) infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV)," says the American Cancer Society. "These infections lead to cirrhosis of the liver and are responsible for making liver cancer the most common cancer in many parts of the world. In the US, infection with hepatitis C is the more common cause of HCC, while in Asia and developing countries, hepatitis B is more common. People infected with both viruses have a high risk of developing chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. The risk is even higher if they are heavy drinkers (at least 6 alcoholic drinks a day)."



Man Smoking On Bright Sunny Day Outdoor

Studies show that smoking—even second hand smoke—dramatically increases the risk of liver disease, which increases the risk of cancer. "From the standpoint of public health, our results have significant implications as they underscore how environmental carcinogens such as secondhand smoke, in addition to cancer-causing effects, may contribute to metabolic liver disease," says Stella Tommasi, assistant professor of research at Keck School of Medicine of USC.

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Being Overweight

shred belly fat

Studies show that being overweight is linked to a 21% increased risk of liver cancer and being obese raises that risk to 87%. "This adds substantial support to liver cancer being on the list of obesity-associated cancers," says Peter Campbell, PhD, strategic director of Digestive System Cancer Research at the American Cancer Society. "Along with reducing known risks—excess alcohol consumption and hepatitis infection—maintaining a healthy body weight, eating healthy, and staying physically active to reduce the risk of diabetes may be important preventive strategies to reduce the risk of liver cancer."

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How Can I Keep My Liver Healthy?

woman consulting with female doctor

If you are worried about your liver, speak with your healthcare provider to rule out any possible issues. "The way people can get a healthier liver is through their diet," says hepatologist Robert Fontana, M.D., who also recommends regular exercise. "There should be a reduction in carbohydrates and total calories, which can lead to improvements in the fat stored in the liver. It doesn't matter if it is wine, beer or liquor: Alcohol is not good for the liver, particularly in patients with pre-existing liver disease."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan