Alcohol and hepatocellular carcinoma

Gastroenterology. 2004 Nov;127(5 Suppl 1):S87-96. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2004.09.020.


More than 18 million adults in the United States abuse alcohol, a prevalence 5 times higher than that of hepatitis C. Chronic alcohol use of greater than 80 g/day for more than 10 years increases the risk for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) approximately 5-fold; alcohol use of less than 80 g/day is associated with a nonsignificant increased risk for HCC. The risk for HCC in decompensated alcohol induced cirrhosis approaches 1% per year. The risk does not decrease with abstinence, and HCC can occur in a noncirrhotic liver. Alcohol use in chronic hepatitis C doubles the risk for HCC as compared with the risk in hepatitis C alone. Furthermore, there may be synergism between alcohol and hepatitis C in the development of HCC, and in these patients HCC may occur at an earlier age and the HCC may be histologically more advanced. Studies in the United States and Italy suggest that alcohol is the most common cause of HCC (accounting for 32%-45% of HCC). The mechanisms by which alcohol causes HCC are incompletely understood, but may include chromosomal loss, oxidative stress, a decreased retinoic acid level in the liver, altered DNA methylation, and genetic susceptibility. Alcohol use is increasing in many countries, suggesting that alcohol will continue to be a common cause of HCC throughout the world.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / etiology*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / physiopathology*
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • DNA Methylation
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / complications
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Alcoholic / complications*
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Liver Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Risk Factors
  • Tretinoin / metabolism
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Tretinoin