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NH Environmental Public Health Tracking Program
Liver cancer

Liver Cancer and the Environment

Liver cancer is a disease in which cancer forms in the liver cells. Liver cancer is very rare in the United States (U.S.). Only 1.8% of new cancer cases every year are liver cancer. However, the percentage of Americans developing liver cancer has been rising slowly for several decades.

The liver plays an important role in removing harmful substances from our blood. This includes environmental contaminants we come into contact with during our lifetime. While the liver usually does a good job at removing those harmful substances, certain chemicals have been shown to damage the liver. For example, studies have shown that some people who drink water containing high levels of arsenic over many years could experience health effects including liver cancer.

Exposure and Risk

Certain people are at increased risk for liver cancer. Globally, 80% to 95% of all liver cancer cases are associated with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses.

People with the following risk factors or characteristics may be more likely than others to develop liver cancer:

Eating foods tainted with aflatoxin. This is a poison from a fungus that can grow on foods, such as grains and nuts, that have not been stored properly.

Evidence suggests that smokers are at increased risk for liver cancer.

Heavy alcohol use has been linked to an increased risk of liver cancer by causing cirrhosis.

The most common risk factor for liver cancer is chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C virus.

Drinking water contaminated with arsenic, increases the risk of some types of liver cancer.

Some types of liver cancer are more common in men than in women

In the U.S., Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of liver cancer, followed by African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives and Hispanics/Latinos, and Caucasians.

Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, increases a person's risk of liver cancer. The majority of people with liver cancer have some evidence of cirrhosis.



You may be able to reduce your risk for many types of liver cancer by avoiding known risk factors for the disease, such as:

For more information on liver cancer:

Environmental Public Health Tracking Program
NH Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services
29 Hazen Drive, Concord, NH 03301
Tel: (603) 271-4988 800-852-3345 ext.4988

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