Can liver cancer be prevented?
In 2013, 5,373 cases of liver cancer were diagnosed in the UK. Liver cancer is more common in men than in women and risk increases with age. Early stage liver cancer doesn’t usually produce symptoms, so it is often quite advanced by the time it is diagnosed and survival rates are poor.
Scientists estimate that maintaining a healthy weight and not drinking alcohol could prevent about one in four cases of liver cancer in the UK.
What is liver cancer?
The liver is a large organ and has many important functions. For example, it plays a role in digesting proteins and fats, removing toxins like alcohol from the body and helping to control blood clotting.
There are different types of liver cancer. The most common type is hepatocellular carcinoma, accounting for 90 per cent of liver cancers.
How can you reduce your risk of liver cancer?
These steps are based on research from our Continuous Update Project (CUP).
There is strong new evidence that being overweight or obese can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), which is a known cause of liver cancer. Being overweight or obese can also affect levels of certain hormones in the body, which may independently increase the risk of liver cancer.
There is strong evidence that drinking approximately three or more alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of liver cancer. Drinking alcohol can cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), which is a cause of liver cancer. The risk further increases if a person also smokes. As drinking alcohol is linked to six common cancers, we recommend not drinking alcohol at all. Read our information on alcohol and cancer, as well as tips on cutting down (pdf).
Although there is also strong new evidence that drinking coffee may decrease the risk of liver cancer, there are still too many unanswered questions – such as how much you should drink, or how regularly – for us to provide reliable advice on drinking coffee. We also need to be sure that coffee doesn’t have any harmful effects on other aspects of health.
There are some indications that eating fish and being physically active may decrease the risk of developing liver cancer, but more research is needed before we are able to provide recommendations.
Visit NHS Choices to find out about the symptoms and treatments of liver cancer.
- Types of cancer
- BMI calculator
- Be a healthy weight
- Don't drink alcohol
- What can increase your risk of cancer?