Alcohol and Liver Cancer

Alcohol consumption is not listed as a risk factor for liver cancer (or hepatocellular carcinoma) by the American Cancer Society1 and the American Society of Clinical Oncologists,2 but is listed by the Mayo Clinic ("excessive alcohol consumption")3 and ("excessive, long-term alcohol use").4

The reason for the difference in considering whether or not alcohol is a risk factor is that alcohol itself doesn't cause liver cancer. However, heavy and abusive alcohol consumption over a period of many years is one of the causes of alcohol cirrhosis (along with hepatitis B and hepatitis C virus). It is the liver cirrhosis itself that is one of the risk factors for liver cancer.

The usual setting is an individual with alcoholic cirrhosis who has stopped drinking for ten years, and then develops liver cancer. It is somewhat unusual for an actively drinking alcoholic to develop liver cancer. What happens is that when the drinking is stopped, the liver cells try to heal by regenerating (reproducing). It is during this active regeneration that a cancer-producing genetic change (mutation) can occur, which explains the occurrence of liver cancer after the drinking has been stopped.5

Drinking alcohol in moderation is not a risk factor for developing liver cancer. On the other hand, the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better health and greater longevity than is either abstaining from alcohol or drinking abusively.

Drinking in moderation has been described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a man consuming four drinks on any day and an average of 14 drinks per week. For women, it is consuming three drinks in any one day and an average of seven drinks per week.

A standard alcoholic drink is:

Standard drinks contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. To a breathalyzer, they're all the same.

There is no evidence that any particular form of alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, or distilled spirits) confers greater health benefits than any other.

Note: This website is informational only. It does not provide health or medical advice and none should be inferred.

Readings on Alcohol and Liver Cancer:

  • (note: listing does not imply endorsement)
  • Abou-Alfa, Ghassan, and DeMatteo, Ronald. I01 Questions about Liver Cancer. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2006.
  • Anzai,Y., et al. Impact of alcohol consumption upon medical care utilization and costs in men: 4-year observation of National Health Insurance beneficiaries in Japan. Addiction, 2005, 100(1), 19-27.
  • Barber, F.D., and Nelson, Jennenne P. Liver cancer. American Journal of Nursing, 2000, 100(4), 41-46.
  • Bottino, Joseph C., et al. Liver Cancer. Boston, MA: Nijoff, 1985.
  • Chuang, S., et al. Liver cancer: descriptive epidemiology and risk factors other than HBV and HCV infection. Cancer Letters, 2009, 286(1), 9-14.
  • Curley, Steven A. Liver Cancer. NY: Springer, 1997.
  • Hayat, M.A. Liver Cancer. NY:Springer, 2009
  • LaVecchia, C. Alcohol and liver cancer. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2007, 16(6), 495-497.
  • Lee, Felix. Liver Cancer: New Research. NY: Nova Biochemical Books, 2006.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support. Understanding Primary Liver Cancer. NY: Macmillan Cancer Support, 2009.
  • Makimoto, K., et al. Is heavy alcohol consumption an attributable risk factor for cancer-related deaths among Japanese men? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2000, 24(3), 382-385.
  • McKillop, I.H., et al. Alcohol and liver cancer. Alcohol, 2005, 35(3), 195-203.
  • National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know about Liver Cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute, 2001.
  • Okuda, Kunio, and Tabor, Edward. Liver Cancer. Boston, MA: Nijoff, 1985.
  • Orr, Tamra. Liver Cancer: Current and Emerging Trends in Detection and Treatment. NY: Rosen, 2009.
  • Pelligrino, A. Looking at liver cancer. Nursing, 2006, 36(10), 52-55.
  • Pelucchi, C., et al. Alcohol and tobacco use, and cancer risk for upper aerodigestive tract and liver. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2008, 17(4), 340-344.
  • Roberts, L.R. Sorafenib in liver cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 2008, 359(4), 420-422.
  • Wang, N. K-L. A geographic analysis of liver cancer mortality and alcohol dependence or abuse in Texas and the U.S., 1980--2003. Thesis. University of Texas School of Public Health, 2008.
  • Xiaobin, F., et al. Alcohol consumption might be beneficial for the patients with resectable liver cancer due to its induction of tolerance to the ischemia-reperfusion injury. Medical Hypotheses, 2009, 73(2), 207.


  • 1. Risk Factors for Liver Cancer.
  • 2. Liver Cancer Risk Factors and Prevention.
  • 3. Liver Cancer Risk Factors.
  • 4. Liver Cancer Causes and Risk Factors.
  • 5. Liver Cancer.

Filed Under: Health

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