Skip directly to searchSkip directly to the site navigationSkip directly to the page's main content

Liver and Intrahepatic Bile Duct Cancers

Liver cancer is a malignant disease that forms in the tissues of the liver. Liver cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world, but relatively uncommon in the U.S., where it accounts for about 2% of all cancers newly diagnosed each year, but nearly 4% of all annual cancer deaths. Many other types of cancer, particularly lung and breast cancer tend to spread to the liver and develop tumor there. Primary liver cancer, which begins in the cells of the liver, is divided into different types based on the kind of cells that become cancerous.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma: This is the most common form of primary liver cancer. It starts in the hepatocytes, the main type of liver cell.
  • Cholangiocarcinoma: This type of cancer begins in the small tube-like bile ducts within the liver. This type of cancer is sometimes called bile duct cancer.
  • Hepatoblastoma: This liver cancer affects infants and young children.
  • Angiosarcoma or hemangiosarcoma: These cancers begin in the blood vessels of the liver and grow very quickly.
Primary liver cancer (cancer that starts in the liver) accounts for 2%-3% of all cancer diagnoses and deaths observed each year in the U.S. Roughly half the cases newly diagnosed each year in the U.S. occur among persons under age 60. Disease risk among males is 3-4 times higher than that in females, reflecting a gender difference in risk factors that include alcohol abuse, chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV), exposure to aflatoxin, and obesity. HBV and HCV can be spread from person to person through sharing contaminated needles (such as in drug use) or unprotected sex. Given these major risk factors, liver cancer is considered largely preventable.
It is estimated that nearly 29,000 people will be newly diagnosed with liver cancer in the U.S during 2012, of which roughly 75% of cases will occur in males and 50% among persons aged 63 years and older. The remaining 50% of cases occur primarily in persons aged 35-62 years.
Factors that increase the risk of primary liver cancer include:
  • Chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV): Chronic infection with HBV or HCV increases the risk of liver cancer. HBV and HCV are transmitted through activities that involve percutaneous (i.e., puncture through the skin) or mucosal contact with infectious blood or body fluids (e.g., semen,saliva), including:
    • Sex with an infected partner
    • Injection drug use that involves sharing needles, syringes, or drug-preparation equipment
    • Birth to an infected mother
    • Contact with blood or open sores of an infected person
    • Needle sticks or sharp instrument exposures
  • Cirrhosis: This progressive and irreversible condition causes scar tissue to form in the liver and increases the chances of developing liver cancer.
  • Certain inherited liver diseases: Liver diseases that can increase the risk of liver cancer include hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease.
  • Diabetes: People with this blood sugar disorder have a greater risk of liver cancer than do people who don't have diabetes.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: An accumulation of fat in the liver increases the risk of liver cancer.
  • Exposure to aflatoxins: Consuming foods contaminated with fungi that produce aflatoxins increases the risk of liver cancer. Crops such as corn and peanuts can become contaminated with aflatoxins. In the United States, safety regulations limit aflatoxin contamination in food. Aflatoxin contamination of food is more common in certain parts of Africa and Asia than in other parts of world.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Consuming more than a moderate amount of alcohol daily over many years can lead to irreversible liver damage and increase the risk of liver cancer.
  • Obesity: Being overweight increases the risk of liver cancer.

You can learn about known and probable carcinogens from Known and Probable Human Carcinogens at (external site).
Liver cancer risk cannot be completely eliminated, but risk can greatly be reduced by avoidance of known risk factors, including exposure to HBV and HCV, alcohol abuse, and obesity.
These healthy habits may help reduce the risk:
  • Do not drink alcohol. If you are a heavy drinker, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your consumption of alcohol and how to quit drinking alcohol.
  • Choose a healthy diet. Talk to your doctor about a meal plan that meets your nutrition needs.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you lose weight. Aim for a slow and steady weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds a week.
  • Do not share needles or syringes.
The NM EPHT website is supported by Cooperative Agreement Number, 6 NUE1EH001354 (previously, 5 U38EH000949), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC or do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Tue, 25 January 2022 1:25:13 from New Mexico EPHT Tracking Public Web site: ".

Content updated: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 16:26:03 MDT