What Causes Liver Cancer?

More than half of all primary liver cancer cases are caused by cirrhosis of the liver, a condition involving scarring of the liver that is usually brought on by alcohol abuse; however, most cases of liver cancer are secondary, meaning that the cancer began elsewhere and metastasized, or spread, to the liver, according to WebMD. Only around 2 percent of cancers in the United States are primary liver cancers.

When primary versions of the cancer are present, it tends to develop in livers that have been infected with chronic diseases like hepatitis C or hepatitis B or that were damaged at birth. A hereditary disease called hemochromatosis is associated with an excess of iron in the liver, and according to WebMD, it can also be a precursor to primary liver cancer. This cancer strikes at an average age of 67 and is twice as likely to be seen in men as women in the United States.

Obesity can also increase the chance of liver cancer, as can excess alcohol consumption. People with diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or who have been exposed to aflatoxins are at increased risk. Aflatoxins are a type of poison that is produced by poorly stored crops like peanuts and corn that begin to mold, as noted by the Mayo Clinic.

During the early stages of liver cancer, symptoms may not appear, notes Mayo Clinic. In its more advanced stages, patients may notice a loss of appetite leading to significant weight loss, upper abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, and general weakness and fatigue. Patients experiencing one or more of these symptoms, or white, chalky stools or a yellowing of the eyes or skin should seek medical attention as soon as possible.