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Does Drinking Cause Liver Cancer?

August 14, 2023

You may have heard that a glass of red wine could help your heart health. But could that same drinking be increasing your risk of liver cancer?

“Alcohol is a poison and a carcinogen. There’s a direct correlation between the amount you drink and risk of liver cancer,” says Charles Cha, MD, chief of surgical oncology at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

Some studies show that daily drinking doubles the risk.

Dr. Cha explains the link between drinking and liver cancer and what you can do to lower your risk.

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Not all drinkers will get liver cancer.

Drinking alcohol has a “direct, toxic effect on the cells that form cancer,” says Dr. Cha. It also increases your chance of developing cirrhosis of the liver, which can lead to cancer.

But not everyone who drinks will develop cancer.

> Related: These 4 Foods Can Decrease Your Risk of Cancer

Cirrhosis is the most common cause of liver cancer.

“Cirrhosis is the biggest cause of liver cancer, and happens in 10 to 20% of people who are heavy drinkers,” he says.

The condition occurs when healthy liver cells are replaced with scar tissue that impacts the way the organ functions.

Cirrhosis irreversibly damages the liver, affecting its ability to remove toxins from the blood and regulates the levels of chemicals in the body. It also releases bile, which helps us digest fat.

Signs of cirrhosis include:

  • Jaundice, or a yellowish tint to the skin.
  • Blood in the stool or vomit

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Early detection is key to treating cirrhosis.

If cirrhosis is discovered early enough, Dr. Cha says it can be cured. Treatment options include:

  • Surgical resection to remove the damaged part of the liver
  • Transplant
  • Ablation, or burning, of the tumors caused by cirrhosis.

“We have a multi-disciplinary liver conference at the Cancer Institute that draws together specialists in all related fields to help find the best options for people with liver cancer and cirrhosis,” Dr. Cha says.

Follow these three tips to reduce your risk of liver cancer.

Overall, a healthy lifestyle will help your liver stay in top shape, he continues. He recommends:

  • Keeping your alcohol intake to a low or moderate level.
  • Following a healthy diet. Increased carbohydrate intake is part of a fatty diet, which can lead to a fatty liver and non-alcohol related liver cancer.
  • Treating any exposure to hepatitis. Treatment for hepatitis C is now 95% effective, and hepatitis A and B are treatable as well.

“Fatty liver, if there is no cirrhosis, is reversible. Addressing that can help keep the liver healthy and increase chances of long-term survival,” Dr. Cha says.