There’s a link between heredity and liver cancer, but genetics aren’t the only factors at play. People who develop liver cancer usually have more than one risk factor, such as a family history of liver cancer combined with hepatitis B or C.

Liver cancer is a serious condition. In the United States, it’s the sixth most deadly type of cancer.

When it comes to liver cancer, family history does play a role, but heredity alone doesn’t always cause liver cancer. Usually, people who develop the condition have more than one risk factor.

There are also certain genetic conditions that may increase your risk of liver cancer, many of which are treatable when caught early.

In this article, we take a look at the links between heredity and liver cancer, what other risk factors are at play, why screening for liver cancer is important, and what typical liver cancer symptoms look like.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is thought to be a genetic disease. About 10% of cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations, and many other cancers are traced to mutations that occur after birth and are not inherited.

Mutations in our DNA play a role in the development of cancer in our bodies. Additionally, cancer is often hereditary, meaning that it tends to run in families. This is because genetic mutations may be passed from parent to child.

A 2018 study found that having a family history of liver cancer increases your risk of developing the disease. However, this risk was increased substantially when other conditions were also present.

Having hepatitis B or C serum markers, along with a family history of liver cancer, is linked to a 70-fold increased risk of developing liver cancer.

There are certain rare genetic disorders that are thought to increase your risk of developing liver cancer. These include:

Many of these conditions are treatable, and early treatment can reduce your chances of developing liver cancer. For example, hereditary hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder that causes a buildup of iron throughout the body, which can damage the liver and cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, increasing your risk of cancer.

However, hereditary hemochromatosis is treatable through dietary changes and frequent blood draws to reduce the amount of iron circulating in the blood. This can ensure that your liver won’t become damaged, which can decrease your risk of liver cancer.

Hereditary predispositions aren’t the only factors that increase your risk of liver cancer. Liver cancer risk is increased by certain lifestyle choices, dietary considerations, and medical conditions.

People who develop liver cancer usually do so after having had liver disease for a long period of time and usually have signs of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Men are more likely to develop liver cancer than women.

Factors that increase your risk of liver cancer are:

What’s the number one cause of liver cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, having an ongoing infection with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C is the single greatest risk factor for developing liver cancer. Hepatitis B and C infections can cause liver cirrhosis, which significantly increases the risk of cancer.

People with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis have a higher risk of developing liver cancer than people with cirrhosis related to hepatitis B or alcohol use.

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As the American Cancer Society explains, liver cancer screenings aren’t currently recommended for people at average risk of developing liver cancer.

However, for people who do have risk factors, regular liver cancer screenings are recommended.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), anyone with known risk factors or who have cirrhosis of the liver should discuss liver cancer screenings with a doctor. The type of doctor who usually screens for liver cancer is a hepatologist.

Liver cancer screenings may involve:

One of the challenges of liver cancer is that its early stages don’t generally have symptoms. This is why liver cancer screenings are important if you have known risk factors.

Signs of symptoms of liver cancer can include:

  • an uncomfortable feeling on the upper right side of your stomach area
  • swelling in your stomach
  • a firm bump in the area below your rib cage on your right side
  • discomfort or pain close to your right shoulder blade or the right side of your back
  • a yellowish tint to your skin or the white portion of your eye, indicating jaundice
  • feeling tired all the time
  • experiencing nausea or vomiting
  • decreased appetite
  • unusual weight loss
  • skin that bruises or bleeds more easily than before

Some of these symptoms can be signs of other common health conditions. That’s why it’s important to seek medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.

If you’re wondering whether liver cancer is hereditary, you’re not alone. This is a common concern, especially if you have a family history of liver cancer or a genetic condition that increases your risk.

In most cases, genetic risks aren’t the only factor at play when it comes to developing liver cancer. However, having a genetic predisposition, along with another risk factor, can substantially increase your risk.

If you have further questions about your own liver cancer risks, talk with a doctor. You can review your medical history and evaluate your risk factors for liver cancer.