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

Lifestyle and self-care measures are the most effective ways to reduce the chances of liver cancer developing.

These include:

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 amounts:

  • 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, a small glass of wine 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 alcohol and treating alcohol misuse.

Hepatitis C

If you regularly inject drugs, such as heroin, the best way of avoiding a hepatitis C infection is to not share any of your 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 are not a drug user, it is important to take common-sense 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.

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

Hepatitis B

There is a vaccine that protects against hepatitis B. However, because hepatitis B is relatively rare in England, the vaccination does not form part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule.

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

  • injecting drug users (including their partners, children and others living with them)
  • people who change sexual partners frequently (including men who have sex with men, and male and female sex workers)
  • close family contacts of someone with a chronic hepatitis B infection
  • people who receive regular blood products and their carers
  • people who have chronic kidney failure
  • people who have chronic liver disease
  • prisoners and some prison service staff
  • people who live in residential accommodation for those with learning difficulties
  • families that foster or adopt children who may have been at increased risk of developing a hepatitis B infection
  • people travelling to, or going to live in, areas where there is a high or moderate incidence of hepatitis B, such as China

People who have an occupation that increases their exposure to hepatitis B should also be vaccinated. These occupations include:

  • healthcare workers
  • laboratory staff
  • staff who work in residential care homes for people with learning difficulties
  • morticians and embalmers
  • some emergency services personnel

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

Read more about preventing hepatitis B.

Page last reviewed: 20/09/2012

Next review due: 20/09/2014

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