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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are possible causes of liver cancer?

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    Mr Dean Spilias

    Upper GI Surgeon (Abdominal)

    Dean graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1997 and went on to surgical training at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. During his residency he had … View Profile

    Liver cancers can be primary liver cancers that arise in the liver, or secondary (metastatic) cancers that spread form a primary cancer elsewhere in the body. 

    The commonest primary liver cancer is a hepatocellular carcinoma, also called an HCC or sometimes a hepatoma. The commonest causes of hepatocellular carcinoma in adults are 

    • Cirrhosis - a condition where scarring and regeneration and inflammation of the liver result in permanent liver damage. 
    • Viral hepatitis - hepatitis B or hepatitis C
    • Alcohol 
    • Haemochromatosis and other “storage disorders” that affect the liver. Haemochromatosis is due to an excess of iron.
    • Fatty liver disease associated with obesity and / or diabetes
    • Toxins of various types, from agricultural (aflatoxin) or chemical exposure
    Most patients with cirrhosis or with chronic (long-term) viral hepatitis require life-long screening with ultrasound tests and blood tests every six months. 

    Hepatocellular carcinoma can also occur with none of the above risk factors. 

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