Liver Cancer and Hepatitis C
Last updated: March 2022
Liver cancer is a risk for the more than 3 million people in the United States who have chronic hepatitis C. Research shows the impact of liver cancer on Americans is growing, along with the cases of hepatitis C.1
The rate of liver cancer in the United States rose by 20 percent between 2008 and 2017. Some states saw increases of more than 50 percent, with North Dakota topping the list at 107 percent. The rate of liver cancer dropped in only 3 states in the nation.2
The number of deaths from liver cancer in the United States also grew by 18 percent between 2008 and 2017. The American Cancer Society expects deaths from liver cancer to exceed 30,000 by the end of 2020. The deaths are not far behind the count of new liver cancer diagnoses, which will likely total almost 43,000 in 2020.2,3
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to 2 likely causes of the increase in liver cancer cases:4,5
- A surge in new HCV infections, which exceeded an estimated 50,000 in 2018
- Improved methods for reporting cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections
Does hepatitis C cause liver cancer?
Long-term hepatitis C virus (HCV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections are known to be the leading causes of liver cancer. This holds true around the world. In the United States, HCV causes more cases of liver cancer than HBV. In March 2016, the CDC reported that HCV accounts for 50 percent of all cases of liver cancer in the United States.5-7
Liver cancer usually follows cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis can occur in people with long-term hepatitis C. The infection destroys healthy liver cells and causes scar tissue to form in their place.2,5,7
What increases a person’s risk of getting liver cancer?
Other factors besides hepatitis C and cirrhosis can also increase a person’s chance of getting liver cancer. These include conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as behaviors like using alcohol and tobacco.5
Gender and race/ethnicity are also risk factors for liver cancer. Liver cancer occurs more often in men and in racial/ethnic minorities. In 2017, men had 3 times as many cases of liver cancer than women. Hispanic people had more new cases of liver cancer than any other race in 2017.2,5
Age can also play a role when it comes to liver cancer and hepatitis C. In 2017, people between the ages of 60 and 69 had more new cases of liver cancer than any other age group. This age group is also more likely to have had hepatitis C for a greater length of time than younger age groups.2
What can people with hepatitis C do to prevent liver cancer?
Although people with hepatitis C face a greater risk of liver cancer, they can do something about it.
Receiving treatment for HCV infection is the best way to prevent liver cancer. Of the 7 viruses known to cause cancer, HCV is 1 that can be cured. With current treatments, the cure rate for HCV is above 90 percent.1,7
People with hepatitis C can also undergo routine screening to monitor the health of their liver. Certain tests can pick up signs of liver cancer. Early detection and treatment of liver cancer can help improve outcomes.7
Making certain diet changes can also help when it comes to preventing cancer. For people with hepatitis C, not drinking alcohol is key for preserving liver health and function.7
If you have hepatitis C, your doctor can advise you on the best course of treatment. Your doctor can also help you keep an eye on your liver health through exams and tests. Observation and prompt treatment are major investments in your health that can protect you against liver cancer.