Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer in adults and is currently the most common cause of death in people with cirrhosis. HCC is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide.
It occurs in the setting of chronic liver inflammation, and is most closely linked to chronic viral hepatitis infection (hepatitis B or C) or exposure to toxins such as alcohol, aflatoxin, or pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Certain diseases, such as hemochromatosis and alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, markedly increase the risk of developing HCC. Metabolic syndrome and NASH are also increasingly recognized as risk factors for HCC.
As with any cancer, the treatment and prognosis of HCC vary depending on the specifics of tumor histology, size, how far the cancer has spread, and overall health.
The vast majority of HCC cases and the lowest survival rates after treatment occur in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, in countries where hepatitis B infection is endemic and many are infected from birth. The incidence of HCC in the United States and other developing countries is increasing due to an increase in hepatitis C virus infections. It is more than four times as common in males as in females, for unknown reasons.