Also known as hepatoma or hepatocellular carcinoma, adult primary liver cancer can be caused by genetic conditions, some inherited liver diseases, diabetes or infectious chronic diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C. It also might be caused by cirrhosis, high levels of iron in the liver or as a result of behaviors such as alcohol abuse. This cancer starts in a single abnormal liver cell called a hepatocyte. Experts do not know what causes a cell to become cancerous, but it is thought that the cell is damaged or altered somehow. This single altered and abnormal liver cell multiplies uncontrollably into a tumor.
Certain risk factors are associated with adult primary liver cancer. Some cancer-causing chemical substances such as herbicides, vinyl chloride and arsenic might cause liver cancer. Arsenic is typically found in some well water. Anabolic steroids, a dye called thorotrast and aflatoxins, which is a plant mold found in some corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and peanuts, can all cause liver cancer.
Smoking, gender, weight, race and certain hormones also increase the risk of adult primary liver cancer. More than twice as many males develop liver cancer, making it the most common cancer for men. This cancer typically occurs in people who are more than 65 years old. A person's race also determines the degree of risk for adult primary liver cancer. People of Asian or Pacific Islander descent are at the highest risk.
Also at high risk for this cancer are those infected with the hepatitis B or the hepatitis C virus. These hepatic infections lead to cirrhosis, which is caused by scar tissue replacing healthy liver tissue. The liver slowly deteriorates and impairs the liver's ability to fight infection, remove toxins from the blood and regulate blood clotting. Most cases of cirrhosis are brought on by abuse of alcohol. Half of all people who are diagnosed with adult primary liver cancer have cirrhosis of the liver.
Adult primary liver cancer begins and develops in the liver. The liver is actually made up of several different types of cells. This means that several types of tumors might appear and form in the liver. Secondary liver cancer starts somewhere else in the body and will metastasize, or spread, from one part of the body to the liver.
Risk factors are based on a great deal of collected information from people who have or have had adult primary liver cancer. Having one or more of the risk factors does not mean that a person will develop liver cancer. Some people develop liver cancer and do not have any of the known risk factors.