Is There a Connection Between Fatty Liver Disease and Cancer?

Your risk of developing liver cancer as well as other cancers, such as colorectal cancer, may rise if you have fatty liver disease. Numerous patients with fatty liver disease also have other cancer risk factors, like obesity.

The accumulation of fat in the liver is known as fatty liver disease. The primary formats are:
  • Non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD): accumulation of fat unrelated to heavy alcohol use
  • Alcohol-related fatty liver disease (AFLD): accumulation of fat linked to heavy alcohol use
An increased incidence of liver cancer as well as certain other cancers, such as colorectal cancer, is linked to fatty liver disease. Changes in your liver and common risk factors could account for part of the connection.

Here, we examine the relationship between cancer and fatty liver disease in more detail.

Can a fatty liver lead to cancer?

NAFLD affects up to 90% of obese individuals. It can worsen into non-alcohol-related steatohepatitis (NASH), an inflammatory and damaging disorder of the liver.

A higher risk of: is linked to NASH.
  • cirrhosis
  • liver failure
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the predominant form of liver cancer that occurs.
Chronically high alcohol intake is the cause of AFLD. Additionally, it has a strong correlation with the onset of liver cancer and cirrhosis.

Why might fatty liver disease increase liver cancer risk?

The accumulation of fat in your liver can impair its defences against harmful substances that enter it through your portal vein from your intestines. These drugs have the potential to inflame your liver, which could leave scars.

The main cause of liver scarring, or cirrhosis, is the greatest risk factor for HCC development. Cirrhosis may be the primary cause of the increased risk of HCC associated with chronic liver inflammation.

How common is liver cancer in people with fatty liver disease?

In a sizable Swedish study that was released in 2022, researchers discovered that persons with NAFLD had a 12.18-fold increased risk of HCC compared to the general population. Furthermore, the chance of getting any type of cancer was 1.22 times higher in those with NAFLD.

Researchers discovered that the risk of liver cancer was 2.34 times greater in males with AFLD and 2.60 times higher in women with AFLD compared to those without AFLD in a 2023 study that used data from the South Korean National Health Insurance Service.

Fatty liver disease and other cancers

Researchers discovered in a 2023 study that NAFLD was linked to a higher overall risk of cancer and that the risk rose with an earlier onset of the condition. Those with NAFLD who were 45 years of age or younger had a 1.52-fold increased chance of developing cancer.

Researchers discovered in the Swedish study that those who have NAFLD also have a higher chance of:
  • bladder cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • kidney cancer
According to the 2023 study, which used data from South Korea, individuals with AFLD had a higher chance of developing any of the ten cancer forms listed below:
  • lip, oral, and pharynx cancer
  • esophageal cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • laryngeal cancer
  • lung cancer
  • liver cancer
  • gallbladder and biliary tract cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • thyroid cancer
  • leukemia

What are the symptoms of cancer potentially caused by fatty liver disease?

Symptoms of liver cancer can include:
  • unintentional weight loss
  • fatigue
  • jaundice
  • loss of appetite
  • flu-like symptoms
  • a noticeable lump on your right side

When to get medical help

You must seek medical assistance if you have any possible liver cancer symptoms. The National Health Service of the United Kingdom advises consulting a physician if you have:
  • a lump in your abdomen
  • unexplained weight loss
  • liver cancer symptoms that either worsen or don't go better after two weeks


Seeking immediate medical assistance is crucial if you experience jaundice or have been vomiting for longer than two days.

How do doctors diagnose and treat cancer potentially caused by fatty liver disease?

Tests for liver cancer include:
  • a review of your medical history and a physical examination
  • blood tests
  • imaging tests, such as:
  • ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
Liver cancer treatment options include:
  • immunotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • ablation
  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • targeted drug therapy
  • embolization therapy

Potential risk for misdiagnosis

Liver fat accumulation can occasionally be mistaken for liver cancer. This accumulation usually happens all across the liver, but occasionally it can result in focused tumours that appear on imaging scans as liver cancer.

Can a fatty liver look like cancer on a CT scan or ultrasound?

Researchers described a case in a 2023 case study involving a woman who had fatty liver deposits that ultrasonography, CT, and MRI scans were unable to distinguish from liver cancer. To confirm the diagnosis, a biopsy was required.

Can cancer be mistaken for fatty liver?

When using imaging tests like ultrasound, medical practitioners may not always be able to distinguish between fatty liver disease and liver cancer. Blood testing and a biopsy can be required in these situations.

Can you prevent fatty liver disease from causing cancer?

Giving up alcohol is the most crucial part of treatment for AFLD. If you abstain from alcohol entirely, you may be able to reverse some liver damage.

NAFLD might be curable with lifestyle modifications like:
  • exercising more
  • eating a balanced diet
  • reducing weight if you're obese or overweight
To help treat NAFLD, a doctor might also suggest drugs to lower your triglyceride and cholesterol levels.


Since symptoms of fatty liver disease typically do not appear until the condition is advanced, it is frequently referred to as a silent illness. If you have AFLD, you may be able to repair some liver damage by quitting alcohol; if you have NAFLD, you may be able to improve your diet and increase your exercise.

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