Liver cancer - Prevention 

Preventing liver cancer 

Hepatitis C

Professor Howard Thomas explains what hepatitis C is, how you can become infected and why it's important to detect it early.

Media last reviewed: 20/08/2013

Next review due: 20/08/2015

Hepatitis B vaccine

Find out who should have hepatitis B vaccine on the NHS, how the vaccine helps, and how to get vaccinated

It's not always possible to prevent liver cancer, but some simple lifestyle and self care measures can reduce your chances of developing the condition.

These include:

Cutting down on alcohol

Giving up drinking alcohol altogether is the most effective way of reducing your risk of developing liver cancer, particularly if you have been drinking for many years.

As a minimum preventative measure, you should not regularly drink more than the recommended daily limits. These are:

  • 3-4 units a day for men
  • 2-3 units a day for women

A unit of alcohol is approximately half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

Visit your GP if you are finding it difficult to moderate your alcohol consumption. Counselling services and medication are available to help you reduce your alcohol intake.

Read more about drinking and alcohol and treating alcohol misuse.

Healthy eating and regular exercise

Although the exact cause of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is unclear, it is known you are more likely to develop the condition if:

These factors can largely be avoided by making sure you have a healthy, balanced diet that is low in fat and salt and high in fruit and vegetables, and by taking regular exercise.

Read more about healthy eatinglosing weight and getting fit and active.

Preventing hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is commonly spread by unsafe medical practices in countries outside the UK, so if you are having treatment in areas of the world with underdeveloped medical care, it is important to ensure safe needle use.

If you use injected drugs, the best way of avoiding a hepatitis C infection is to not share any of the drug-injecting equipment with other people. This does not just apply to needles, but to anything that could come into contact with other people's blood, such as:

  • mixing spoons
  • filters
  • water used to dissolve drugs
  • tourniquets (the belt that drug users sometimes tie around their arm to make it easier to inject their veins)

Hepatitis C does not cause noticeable symptoms for several years, so many people may be unaware they are infected. It is therefore safer to assume anyone may have the infection.

Even if you do not use illegal drugs, it is important to take commonsense precautions to minimise your exposure to other people's blood. This includes avoiding sharing any object that could be contaminated with blood, such as razors or toothbrushes.

There is less risk of getting hepatitis C by having sex with someone who is infected. However, as a precaution it is recommended you use a barrier method of contraception during sex, such as a condom.

It may also be possible to get hepatitis C by sharing banknotes or "snorting tubes" to snort drugs such as cocaine or amphetamine with an infected person.

These types of drugs can irritate the lining of your nose, and small particles of contaminated blood could be passed on to the note or tube, which you could then inhale.

If you have already been diagnosed with hepatitis C, your doctor may recommend taking antiviral medication to reduce the risk of your liver becoming scarred.

Read more about getting tested and treated for hepatitis C and preventing hepatitis C.

Preventing hepatitis B

There is a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B. However, as it is uncommon for hepatitis B to be spread between people in the UK, the vaccination is not given as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule.

Vaccination is usually only recommended for people in high-risk groups, such as:

  • people who work somewhere that places them at risk of contact with blood or body fluids, such as nurses, prison staff, doctors, dentists and laboratory staff
  • people in prison
  • families adopting or fostering children from high-risk countries
  • close family and sexual partners of someone with hepatitis B
  • anyone who receives regular blood transfusions or blood products
  • people with any form of liver disease
  • people with chronic kidney disease
  • people travelling to high-risk countries
  • people who inject drugs or have a partner who injects drugs
  • people who change their sexual partners frequently
  • men who have sex with men
  • babies born to infected mothers
  • male and female sex workers

Contact your GP for advice if you are uncertain about whether you should be vaccinated against hepatitis B. 

As with hepatitis C, antiviral medications are also sometimes offered to people with hepatitis B to reduce the risk of liver damage.

Read more about the hepatitis B vaccine and treating hepatitis B.

Page last reviewed: 29/09/2014

Next review due: 29/09/2016

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