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How Can I Prevent Liver Cancer?

Since it's not always clear what causes liver cancer, doctors do not always know how to prevent liver cancer. Even so, you should still avoid known risk factors as much as possible. Below are some ways to avoid risk factors that have been linked to liver cancer:

  • Avoid activities that increase the risk of exposure to the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). These activities include using intravenous drugs, having many sex partners, and handling human blood or fluids without protection. Also, be sure to ask your doctor if you should get the hepatitis B vaccine. If you are at risk for HBV or HCV infection, ask your doctor about getting tested. For people who are infected, drugs are available that can keep the infections in check or even cure them in some people. This may lower your risk of liver cancer. 

  • Avoid drinking a lot of alcohol to reduce your risk of cirrhosis, a disease of the liver that increases the risk of liver cancer.

  • Avoid any raw food that may contain the fungus Aspergillus flavus, which releases toxins that can lead to liver cancer. 

Can I get checked for liver cancer before I have symptoms?

Screening tests check for problems before symptoms develop. There are no routine screening methods used to find liver cancer in people without known risk factors. If you do have risk factors for liver cancer, such as a history of heavy alcohol use, cirrhosis, or HBV or HCV infection, you should talk with a doctor about undergoing screening tests. 

People who have cirrhosis of the liver should be closely monitored for liver cancer. This may include repeated blood tests for alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and ultrasound exams of the liver.

AFP is a protein in the blood that typically decreases after birth. Increased levels of AFP have been linked to certain liver diseases, including liver cancers. Keep in mind, though, that not all types of liver cancer cause an elevation in AFP. Also, in some instances, AFP levels do not increase until the liver cancer has already spread to other sites in the body. For these reasons, this test is not always a good one for predicting liver cancer at a stage when it can still be treated easily.

Ultrasound imaging of the liver that is done on a regular basis may also be used by doctors to try to find liver cancer before it causes symptoms. An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal organs, including the liver. These pictures can help doctors find tumors in the liver that they may not have otherwise known were there. Even so, it's not entirely clear how often doctors should perform liver ultrasounds in people at risk for liver cancer.