Liver cancer

Our analysis of worldwide research on liver cancer.

As part of the Continuous Update Project (CUP) - our ongoing programme to analyse global research on how diet, nutrition, physical activity and weight affect cancer risk and survival – we have analysed worldwide research to produce our CUP report on liver cancer.

Published in March 2015, the report is the most rigorous, systematic, global analysis of the scientific research currently available on diet, weight, physical activity and liver cancer, and which of these factors increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease.

For the report, the global scientific research on diet, nutrition, physical activity and liver cancer was gathered and analysed by a research team at Imperial College London, and then independently assessed by a panel of leading international scientists.

The total number of adults in the 34 studies from around the world reviewed for the report was around 8.2 million; and the total number of liver cancer cases in the studies analysed for the report was 24,500.

The report updates the liver cancer section of our 2007 Second Expert Report.

Key Findings

Strong evidence

  • There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of liver cancer (being overweight or obese is assessed by body mass index (BMI)).
  • There is strong evidence that consuming approximately 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day is a cause of liver cancer.
  • There is strong evidence that consuming foods contaminated by aflatoxins (toxins produced by fungi) increases the risk of liver cancer. (Aflatoxins are produced by inadequate storage of food, and are generally an issue related to foods from warmer, developing regions of the world. Foods that may be affected by aflatoxins include cereals, spices, peanuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, chillies, black pepper, dried fruit and figs).
  • There is strong evidence that drinking coffee is linked to a decreased risk of liver cancer.

The findings on being overweight or obese, and for coffee in this report are new. The findings for alcoholic drinks and aflatoxins remain strong and unchanged from our 2007 Second Expert Report.

Liver cancer matrix

Recommendations

To reduce the risk of developing liver cancer:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
  2. If consumed at all, limit alcohol to a maximum of 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

This advice forms part of our existing Cancer Prevention Recommendations. Our Cancer Prevention Recommendations are for preventing cancer in general and include eating a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

A more detailed overview of the findings is provided in the Executive Summary of the report which can be found here.