Learn About Liver Cancer

Learn About Liver Cancer

Liver Cancer Now Linked to Obesity

In March 2015, the American Institute for Cancer Research officially added liver cancer to the list of cancers linked to excess weight.


What Are Liver Cancer’s Risk Factors?

Alcohol: There is strong evidence that drinking approximately 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day is a cause of liver cancer. This risk increases further if a person also smokes.

Overweight/Obesity: Carrying excess body fat increases liver cancer risk.

Other Factors: Diabetes, the hepatitis B and C viruses, and exposure to aflatoxins (poison from a fungus that grows on improperly stored grains and nuts, particularly in the developing world).

How Common Is Liver Cancer?

In the US, approximately 39,230 people are diagnosed with liver cancer every year. It is nearly 3 times more common in men than in women; ranking as the 10th most common cancer in men, and the 5th deadliest male cancer. Over 17,000 US men die from liver cancer every year, compared to over 7,500 women.



30% of liver cancers can be prevented

To lower your risk for liver cancer:

  1. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to two drinks/day for men, and one drink/day for women.
  2. Make everyday choices that will help you stay at or get to your healthy weight. (Find your healthy weight using the AICR Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator.
  3. If you smoke or chew tobacco, stop. If you don’t, never start.


Drinking coffee has now been linked to decreased risk for liver cancer, though it’s not yet possible to pinpoint what amount or preparation method affords optimal protection.

Try water or unsweetened tea, which quench your thirst without adding calories that can lead to weight gain, and increased risk.

When it comes to alcohol, the best advice is to moderate your intake as outlined above, or avoid it completely.

Avoid sugary drinks (regular sodas, lemonade, sweet coffee and tea), which add calories without filling you up.


Aim to get your body up and moving for at least 30 minutes every day. Try anything that:

  • Makes your heart beat faster
  • Makes you breathe more deeply
  • You already enjoy doing


  • AICR's Foods That Fight CancerTM

    AICR’s new web resource keeps you up-to-date about the latest research on foods that belong at the center of your New American Plate.

Get More:
  • Vegetables – Choose non-starchy ones like tomatoes, leafy greens, peppers and carrots.
  • Fruit – Go for whole fruits more often, whether fresh or frozen. Because it's calorie-dense, limit even 100% fruit juice to 1 cup per day.
  • Whole Grains – Whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal are just a few great choices.
  • Beans – Add pinto, kidney, black, garbanzos and more to soups, salads and stews.
Get Less:
  • Red meat like beef, pork and lamb

    These foods tend to be calorie-dense.

  • Processed meat

    Processed meat like hot dogs, cold cuts, bacon and sausage are often high in calories .

A good rule of thumb:

Always fill at least 2/3 of your plate with plant foods, and let animal foods (meat and dairy) take up the rest.

What the Research Shows


Sources: AICR/WCRF Expert Report, 2007 and the AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project Report: Liver Cancer, March 2015
CONVINCING Effect on Risk:  
  • Alcoholic Drinks
  • Body fatness
  • Aflatoxins
PROBABLE Effect on Risk:



What’s the Link?

Alcoholic Drinks RAISE Liver Cancer Risk

Excessive consumption of alcohol gives rise to cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. This interferes with liver functioning in ways that increase risk.

This risk increase becomes pronounced at approximately three or more alcoholic drinks per day. Risk is increased further if a person also smokes.

Excess Body Fat RAISES Liver Cancer Risk

  • Being overweight and obese increases blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can encourage the growth of cancer.
  • Excess fat also creates a pro-inflammatory environment in the body that can contribute to the growth of cancer.

Drinking Coffee LOWERS Liver Cancer Risk

  • Although many unanswered questions remain, strong evidence indicates that drinking coffee protects against liver cancer.
  • Coffee contains a variety of naturally occurring compounds that may exhibit anti-cancer activity in the body.
  • Because coffee is consumed in a wide variety of ways (caffeinated, decaf; black, w/milk, sugar; drip, press; etc.) it is not yet possible to pinpoint a precise amount or preparation that affords optimal protection. In studies, people who drank one cup per day had a 14% lower risk of liver cancer than people who did not drink coffee at all.

Exposure to Aflatoxins RAISES Liver Cancer Risk

  • Our global review of the evidence identified aflatoxins – produced by fungi that grow on improperly stored grains and nuts – as a cause of liver cancer.
  • Aflatoxin exposure is rare in the U.S.
  • Aflatoxins cause a kind of liver damage that can spark the cancer process.

    For related AICR supported studies visit our research section.

    Looking Forward


    If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with liver cancer you will face many everyday questions. AICR can help.

    AICR's CancerResource: A Program for Those Living with Cancer is a free toolkit of information specifically for the newly diagnosed cancer patient. Developed with an Advisory Committee of experts, AICR CancerResource's offers worksheets and guidance on eating and being active both during and after treatment.

    You can download the handbook or receive a print copy. To see inside pages and purchase a hardcopy, visit our store.

    Visit our section for Cancer Survivors for more resources and information.

    Join the fight against cancer

    Join the Fight Against Liver Cancer

    Liver cancer is too often a deadly disease, yet the choices we make every day could play a role in making fewer cases happen.

    Your support for AICR's cancer research, survivorship, and education programs will help us get one step closer to preventing liver cancer and saving lives.

    Your gift will help fund emerging research on liver cancer and other cancers and improve the quality of health for liver cancer patients and survivors.

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