Liver Cancer: Excessive Alcohol Use and Other Risks

glass of alcohol next to a representation of a human liver

New Brunswick, N.J., October 1, 2022 – The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It removes toxins from the blood and regulates the levels of chemicals. It excretes a product called bile which helps you digest fat. It makes clotting factors and stores sugar that the body uses for energy. Many may associate poor liver health with increased alcohol consumption but does that mean that drinking alcohol causes liver cancer? Mariam F. Eskander, MD, MPH, surgical oncologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s leading cancer center only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, together with RWJBarnabas Health, and assistant professor of surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School whose clinical expertise includes liver tumors, shares more information on this topic.

What is the relationship between excessive alcohol use and liver cancer?

Heavy alcohol use is toxic to the liver. Alcohol abuse can cause irreversible damage to the liver called cirrhosis, and cirrhosis is the biggest risk factor for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer. Other risk factors are chronic hepatitis B or C and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which can also lead to cirrhosis. Smoking is another risk factor.

What are ways to lower liver cancer risk?

Take care of your liver! This means avoiding excessive alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.

Are there any early signs or symptoms of liver cancer?

Unfortunately, there are not any early signs of liver cancer. However, patients may present with abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea or vomiting, and yellowing of the skin or eyes.

Is liver cancer hereditary?

Generally, no. There are some genetic conditions that increase the risk of developing liver cancer but they are not common. These include hereditary hemochromatosis and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

Should people who have liver cancer abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages?

Yes, people who have liver cancer should avoid drinking alcohol. It can worsen liver function and limit treatment options. It can also increase the risk of developing another type of cancer.

What should I do if I think I’m at risk for liver cancer?

Talk to your primary care physician about your specific risk factors and actions you can take to lower your risk. People with cirrhosis should also see a liver specialist to improve their liver health and get regular ultrasound screenings for liver cancer.

At Rutgers Cancer Institute, the Liver Cancer and Bile Duct Cancer Program is the state's only multidisciplinary health care group focused on liver and bile duct tumors. Learn more about our Liver Cancer and Bile Duct Cancer Program.



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