The Link Between Hepatitis and Liver Cancer

In medical terms, liver cancer is also known as “hepatocellular carcinoma.” The liver cells called hepatocytes make up 80% of your liver.

Scarring of your liver is usually caused by cirrhosis, which is recognized as the main risk factor for liver cancer. Cirrhosis can be caused by hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and viral hepatitis, alcohol abuse, autoimmune diseases, hemochromatosis, and other diseases that lead to chronic inflammation of the liver. Chronic hepatitis B or C infections may also lead to liver cancer.

Doctor showing CT scan to patient
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Functions of the Liver

The liver is considered the largest internal organ. It has the ability to execute a wide variety of jobs and functions, such as changing food into energy and cleaning out poisons and alcohol from the blood.

  • The liver is also responsible for making bile, which is a yellowish-green liquid that helps with digestion.
  • The liver produces blood clotting factors and proteins that your body needs.
  • The liver regulates glucose or sugar in your blood and stores additional sugar.
  • The liver works with your intestines and stomach to easily and quickly digest food.
  • The liver stores minerals and vitamins.
  • The liver removes toxic or poisonous substances from your blood.


Most people have heard the term “hepatitis.” Nonetheless, some aren’t aware of the deadly symptoms of this disease. Hepatitis has the potential to cause inflammation in the liver, which can impair liver function. Hepatitis can also lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis.

Viruses are the major cause of hepatitis. The different types are named for the viruses that cause them. For example, the cause of hepatitis A is the hepatitis A virus. However, alcohol and drug use can also result in hepatitis. There are also cases when your immune system attacks liver cells by mistake.

Vaccines have the ability to prevent some forms of hepatitis, and thus, in the long run, they can help avoid cancer of the liver as well. Hepatitis can be treated with medicines; however, in some cases, hepatitis may last a lifetime.

Acute hepatitis is considered the initial infection, which can be severe or mild. If your infection lasts for at least six months, your condition is called chronic hepatitis. Hepatitis A and E don’t cause chronic hepatitis. Hepatitis viruses B, C, and D have the ability to produce both chronic and acute illness. However, hepatitis B and C are more serious conditions.

Facts About Hepatitis

  • Hepatitis, a condition in which the liver is inflamed, impairs liver function.
  • Viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is recognized as the usual cause of liver cancer.
  • There are five different viruses that can cause hepatitis. Hepatitis A and E are spread through human waste, contaminated water, and food. Hepatitis B, C, and D are spread through an infected individual’s body fluids or blood.
  • Vaccines have the potential to protect against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. However, no vaccines are available for Hepatitis C, D, or E.
  • Hepatitis B, C, and D can lead to long-lasting problems such as liver cancer and liver scarring (also known as cirrhosis).

Liver Cancer

Liver tumors can be classified as primary and metastatic. Primary liver tumors are divided into “benign” tumors (which means not cancerous), and "metastatic," in which the tumor spreads to other parts of the body. The diagnosis of primary cancer of the liver is made by liver imaging tests that include a CT scan and abdominal ultrasound along with measurement of alpha-fetoprotein. However, the final diagnosis is made by needle biopsy.

Today, the most common treatment for liver cancer is the direct injection of chemotherapeutic agents into your tumor with the use of the small needle, also known as embolization. Most people who undergo this liver cancer treatment have good chances of prolonged survival. Apart from this, liver transplantation and surgical resection are other potential treatments for liver cancer.

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  • McGivern DR, Lemon SM. Virus-specific mechanisms of carcinogenesis in hepatitis C virus associated liver cancer. Oncogene. 2011 Apr 28;30(17):1969-83.
  • Wong Ch, Goh K. Chronic hepatitis B infection, and liver cancer. Biomed Imaging Interv J. 2006 Jul-Sep; 2(3): e7.

By Naheed Ali, MD
Naheed Ali, MD, PhD, is the author of "Understanding Hepatitis: An Introduction for Patients and Caregivers."