Diet for liver cancer

What foods protect the liver?

Some of the best foods and drinks that are good for the liver include:

1. Coffee

Share on PinterestDrinking coffee offers protection against fatty liver disease.

A 2013 review that appears in the journal Liver International suggests that over 50 percent of people in the United States consume coffee daily.

Coffee appears to be good for the liver, especially because it protects against issues such as fatty liver disease.

The review also notes that daily coffee intake may help reduce the risk of chronic liver disease. It may also protect the liver from damaging conditions, such as liver cancer.

A 2014 study that appears in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology suggests that the protective effects of coffee are due to how it influences liver enzymes.

Coffee, it reports, seems to reduce fat buildup in the liver. It also increases protective antioxidants in the liver. Compounds in coffee also help liver enzymes rid the body of cancer-causing substances.

2. Oatmeal

Consuming oatmeal is an easy way to add fiber to the diet. Fiber is an important tool for digestion, and the specific fibers in oats may be especially helpful for the liver. Oats and oatmeal are high in compounds called beta-glucans.

As a 2017 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences reports, beta-glucans are very biologically active in the body. They help modulate the immune system and fight against inflammation, and they may be especially helpful in the fight against diabetes and obesity.

The review also notes that beta-glucans from oats appear to help reduce the amount of fat stored in the liver in mice, which could also help protect the liver. More clinical studies are necessary to confirm this, however.

People looking to add oats or oatmeal to their diet should look for whole oats or steel-cut oats, rather than prepackaged oatmeal. Prepackaged oatmeal may contain fillers such as flour or sugars, which will not be as beneficial for the body.

3. Green tea

Share on PinterestConsuming green tea may help reduce overall fat content.

A 2015 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology notes that green tea may help reduce overall fat content, fight against oxidative stress, and reduce other signs of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

It is important to note that tea may be better than extracts, as some extracts may damage the liver rather than heal it.

The study notes that there are still no specific recommendations for people with this condition to consume tea or tea extracts, but the link to liver health is promising.

4. Garlic

Adding garlic to the diet may also help stimulate the liver. A 2016 study that appears in the journal Advanced Biomedical Research notes that garlic consumption reduces body weight and fat content in people with NAFLD, with no changes to lean body mass. This is beneficial, as being overweight or obese is a contributing factor to NAFLD.

5. Berries

Many dark berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries, contain antioxidants called polyphenols, which may help protect the liver from damage.

As a study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology suggests, regularly eating berries may also help stimulate the immune system.

6. Grapes

The study that features in the World Journal of Gastroenterology reports that grapes, grape juice, and grape seeds are rich in antioxidants that may help the liver by reducing inflammation and preventing liver damage.

Eating whole, seeded grapes is a simple way to add these compounds to the diet. A grape seed extract supplement may also provide antioxidants.

7. Grapefruit

The World Journal of Gastroenterology study also mentions grapefruit as a helpful food. Grapefruit contains two primary antioxidants: naringin and naringenin. These may help protect the liver from injury by reducing inflammation and protecting the liver cells.

The compounds may also reduce fat buildup in the liver and increase the enzymes that burn fat. This may make grapefruit a helpful tool in the fight against NAFLD.

8. Prickly pear

The fruit and juice of the prickly pear may also be beneficial to liver health. The World Journal of Gastroenterology study suggests that compounds in the fruit may help protect the organ.

Most research focuses on extracts from the fruit, however, so studies that focus on the fruit or juice itself are necessary.

9. Plant foods in general

Share on PinterestAvocados and other plant foods contain compounds linked closely to liver health.

A 2015 study that appears in the journal Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine reports that a large number of plant foods may be helpful for the liver.

These include:

  • avocado
  • banana
  • barley
  • beets and beet juice
  • broccoli
  • brown rice
  • carrots
  • fig
  • greens such as kale and collards
  • lemon
  • papaya
  • watermelon

People should eat these foods as part of a whole and balanced diet.

10. Fatty fish

As a study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology points out, consuming fatty fish and fish oil supplements may help reduce the impact of conditions such as NAFLD.

Fatty fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are the good fats that help reduce inflammation. These fats may be especially helpful in the liver, as they appear to prevent the buildup of excess fats and maintain enzyme levels in the liver.

The study recommends eating oily fish two or more times each week. If it is not easy to incorporate fatty fish such as herring or salmon into the diet, try taking a daily fish oil supplement.

11. Nuts

The same study says that eating nuts may be another simple way to keep the liver healthy and protect against NAFLD. Nuts generally contain unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and antioxidants. These compounds may help prevent NAFLD, as well as reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

Eating a handful of nuts, such as walnuts or almonds, each day may help maintain liver health. People should be sure not to eat too many, however, as nuts are high in calories.

12. Olive oil

Eating too much fat is not good for the liver, but some fats may help it. According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology study, adding olive oil to the diet may help reduce oxidative stress and improve liver function. This is due to the high content of unsaturated fatty acids in the oil.

A Diet for Liver Cancer Patients

If you have liver cancer, eating is probably the last thing you want to do. The disease itself and its treatments can make food unappealing. However, you need to eat to maintain your weight and strength to fight the cancer.

To find a meal plan that works for you, consult with a registered dietitian. This way, you can be sure that you are eating foods that provide the most nutrition, says Russell Mark Reisner, MD, an oncologic surgeon at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.

Liver Cancer: A Healthy Diet

To help maintain your weight and strength as you fight liver cancer, consider these dietary dos and don’ts:

  • Go organic. Because the liver is responsible for detoxification, a liver cancer patient should avoid processed foods and foods that have lots of chemicals, says Heather Zwickey, PhD, director of the Helfgott Research Institute in Portland, Ore. Choose natural and organically grown foods because “you don’t want your body to try to process pesticides,” she says. Also, stay away from highly processed foods, such as bacon, hot dogs, and bologna. Even pasta is processed, so you might want to avoid it, too, Zwickey says.
  • Use ginger. Those undergoing treatment for liver cancer often experience nausea. “When people have a lot of nausea, ginger is the best thing,” Zwickey says. “You can buy ginger in the grocery store, cut it up and boil it and make your own tea.” Bland foods, such as applesauce, crackers, toast, and bananas, also can help with nausea.
  • Think small. Plan to consume six to eight smaller meals a day, instead of three large ones. Eat them in two- to three-hour intervals, says Andrea Frank, RD, a dietitian with Sodexho at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. “Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day,” she says, “will mean your plate won’t be as full and so eating won’t seem as overwhelming.”
  • Go lean. Avoid fatty meats, such as beef, lamb, and pork; opt for fish, beans, or poultry. And be careful how you prepare these foods; it is much more healthy to broil, poach, or bake, instead of charbroiling or frying.
  • Supplement. “Nutrition bars and liquid nutritional supplements are a great way to ensure you are able to meet your caloric requirements,” Frank says. “Keep liquid supplements in the refrigerator so they are cold and ready to drink for better taste.”
  • Don’t prep. Choose foods that are ready to eat or require little preparation so you don’t have to spend your energy getting them ready, Frank says. “This might include foods such as puddings, peanut butter, tuna, cereal bars, trail mix, cheese and crackers, eggs, and frozen meals,” she says.
  • Ask for help. Let your family and friends help you with your grocery shopping and preparing your meals. Be sure they know what you like and what you feel like eating so that they are sure to include it, Frank says. They will be glad to help.
  • Pamper yourself. “If you’re feeling better, take advantage of the time and enjoy some of your favorite foods,” Frank says. Look for those high in calories and protein.
  • Avoid alcohol. Your liver is already stressed. You don’t want to make it any more so.

When you are fatigued and tired because of your liver cancer and treatments, it may be hard to eat and maintain your weight. But a nutritious diet is important and can help you gain strength and feel better. It is best to discuss your dietary needs with a dietitian. Your oncologist can recommend one if you don’t know where to start.

Liver cancer, caused by hepatitis B and C, is on the rise in the U.S. and it is also the second deadliest. Fewer than 15 percent of patients with liver cancer will survive five years after their diagnosis. It is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths among Asian-Americans and the eighth-leading cause of cancer deaths among Caucasian-Americans.

Despite this bleak outlook, there are people with liver cancer who are beating the odds and surviving. The medical community is also working hard to develop new drugs and effective strategies to treat liver cancer. Here is one survivor’s story.

By Frank Gardea

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

In late 2008, during routine testing before surgery, I found out I had hepatitis C and liver cirrhosis. It was a double whammy because having both viral hepatitis and cirrhosis put me at high risk for liver cancer.

Then the abdominal pain started. I suffered for almost three years and was in and out of the emergency department. They could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. When they finally diagnosed my liver cancer, the tumor was over 8 cm in size.

I was of course angry. Why didn’t they catch my cancer earlier? I was hospitalized for over a week and then referred to the oncology department. That’s when they told me, “You have three months to live.”

I was not a candidate for a liver transplant and one of the doctors didn’t even want to give me a referral to a hepatologist because she thought I was too far gone. I went home and binge-watched YouTube videos on liver cancer. I found out that far too often, by the time liver cancer is diagnosed, it’s too late.

Another doctor later referred me to UCLA, one of the top liver cancer centers in the country. At my first appointment at the liver cancer center, I saw Dr. Richard Finn, a leading liver cancer expert, who was part of a team of health care professionals taking care of me. They never once said I was beyond hope.

The following week, the tumor burst and I was admitted to the liver cancer center. I realized I was dying. They did a procedure called TACE that saved my life. I was put on an oral targeted therapy, which, in combination with the TACE, caused the tumor to shrink.

Fulltime Job

Life definitely has changed for me. I had a small company that I had to pretty much shut down. I fell behind on my mortgages but was able to work out agreements to get them modified. Being a patient now became my fulltime job.

I spent most of my time negotiating insurance plans, figuring out medical costs, and going for medical visits. My friends put me on their private insurance plan for two years, and then I got my own insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Without that insurance, I would not have been able to survive.

Staying Positive

It’s hard to stay positive when you know you have a tumor inside you that is killing you. It’s not just financially, but also emotionally draining. I go for mental health therapy because I get so depressed. Being sick, not being as physically active as I want, and coping with the side effects of the drugs can get overwhelming.

Be Your Own Advocate!

The most important thing I have learned is that I have to educate myself about my disease and be prepared when talking with my doctor. I had to become my own advocate, asking questions and being persistent about getting the care I need.

I am not out of the woods yet, but I have a lot to be thankful for. I have now lived three years longer than expected, thanks to my care team. They say I am one of their success stories!

I have joined a cancer support group so I can share my experience. Maybe I can help somebody.

For more information about liver cancer, visit our Liver CancerConnect website getting screened for liver cancer when you have hepatitis B, click here.

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about the number of people who are diagnosed with liver cancer each year. You will also read general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. Use the menu to see other pages.

This year, an estimated 42,030 adults (29,480 men and 12,550 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with primary liver cancer. Since 1980, incidence of liver cancer has tripled. Between 2006 and 2015, the number of people diagnosed with the disease increased by approximately 3% annually. Men are about 3 times more likely than women to be diagnosed with the disease.

It is estimated that 31,780 deaths (21,600 men and 10,180 women) from this disease will occur this year. For men, liver cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death. It is the seventh most common cause of cancer death among women. The overall death rate has more than doubled from 1980 to 2016.

When compared with the United States, liver cancer is much more common in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In some countries, it is the most common cancer type.

The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the cancer is found. Percent means how many out of 100. The general 5-year survival rate is 18%. Survival rates depend on several factors, including the stage of the disease.

For the 44% of people who are diagnosed at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate is 31%. If liver cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 11%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 2%. However, even if the cancer is found at a more advanced stage, treatments are available that help many people with liver cancer experience a quality of life similar to that of before their diagnosis, at least for some time. If surgery is possible, that generally results in higher survival rates across all stages of the disease.

It is important to remember that statistics on the survival rates for people with liver cancer are an estimate. The estimate comes from annual data based on the number of people with this cancer in the United States. Also, experts measure the survival statistics every 5 years. So the estimate may not show the results of better diagnosis or treatment available for less than 5 years. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about this information. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2019, and the ACS website (January 2019).

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations. It offers drawings of body parts often affected by liver cancer. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.

Can Liver Cancer Be Prevented?

Many liver cancers could be prevented by reducing exposure to known risk factors for this disease.

Avoid and treat hepatitis B and C infections

Worldwide, the most significant risk factor for liver cancer is chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). These viruses can spread from person to person through sharing contaminated needles (such as in drug use) through unprotected sex, and through childbirth, so some liver cancers may be avoided by not sharing needles and by using safer sex practices (such as always using condoms).

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all children, as well as adults at risk get the HBV vaccine to reduce the risk of hepatitis and liver cancer. There is no vaccine for HCV. Preventing HCV infection, as well as HBV infection in people who have not been immunized, is based on understanding how these infections occur.

Blood transfusions were once a major source of hepatitis infection as well. But because blood banks in the United States test donated blood to look for these viruses, the risk of getting a hepatitis infection from a blood transfusion is extremely low.

People at high risk for HBV or HCV should be tested for these infections so they can be watched for liver disease and treated if needed.

The CDC recommends that you get tested for HCV if any of the following are true:

  • You were born from 1945 through 1965 (this is because most of the people in the US that are infected with HCV were born in these years)
  • You ever injected drugs (even just once or a long time ago)
  • You needed medicine for a blood clotting problem before 1987
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992 (when blood and organs started being screened for HCV)
  • You were or are on long-term hemodialysis
  • You are infected with HIV
  • You might have been exposed to Hepatitis C in the last 6 months through sex or sharing needles during drug use

Treatment of chronic HCV infection can eliminate the virus in many people and may lower the risk of liver cancer.

A number of drugs are used to treat chronic HBV. These drugs reduce the number of viruses in the blood and lessen liver damage. Although the drugs don’t cure the disease, they lower the risk of cirrhosis and may lower the risk of liver cancer, as well.

Limit alcohol and tobacco use

Drinking alcohol can lead to cirrhosis, which in turn, can lead to liver cancer. Not drinking alcohol or drinking in moderation could help prevent liver cancer.

Since smoking also increases the risk of liver cancer, not smoking will also prevent some of these cancers. If you smoke, quitting will help lower your risk of this cancer, as well as many other cancers and life-threatening diseases.

Get to and stay at a healthy weight

Avoiding obesity might be another way to help protect against liver cancer. People who are obese are more likely to have fatty liver disease and diabetes, both of which have been linked to liver cancer.

Limit exposure to cancer-causing chemicals

Changing the way certain grains are stored in tropical and subtropical countries could reduce exposure to cancer-causing substances such as aflatoxins. Many developed countries already have regulations to prevent and monitor grain contamination.

Treat diseases that increase liver cancer risk

Certain inherited diseases can cause cirrhosis of the liver, increasing a person’s risk for liver cancer. Finding and treating these diseases early in life could lower this risk. For example, all children in families with hemochromatosis should be screened for the disease and treated if they have it. Treatment regularly removes small amounts of blood to lower the amount of excess iron in the body.

36 foods that may help lower your cancer risk

Make a healthy food list to help you manage your weight

Eating too much of anything can increase body fat, which increases your cancer risk. Obesity is linked to 12 types of cancer.

“Foods that are lower in calories and sugar and higher in fiber can help you manage your weight. All those things reduce the number of calories you consume,” says Wohlford. “Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your cancer risk.”

Before you head to the grocery store, keep these tips in mind. They can help you simplify your list and make healthier choices when you get to the store.

Keep your menu simple. You don’t need a complicated list of ingredients to make a healthy, tasty meal.

  • Don’t be afraid of frozen vegetables and fruit (not in sauce or juice).
  • Choose whole grains. Fiber is important for blood sugar control and weight management
  • Choose foods that fight inflammation. That includes fatty fish like salmon and sardines, whole grains like brown rice and probiotics like yogurt and kombucha

One more tip: Shop the outer edges of the store. The perimeter of the store has less processed foods.

“While there are some foods that are great down the aisles, as a general rule, the whole foods are around the perimeter of the store,” says Wohlford.

If you are going to buy something in a package, read the nutrition label first. If the item has more than two or three ingredients, think about a different choice. The nutrition label will also give you valuable information about the salt and sugar in the food you are considering.

Foods that can increase your cancer risk

Just as there are foods that can reduce your cancer risk, there are foods that can increase it. Make it a point to steer clear of these foods when you go shopping.

  • Avoid processed meat. Processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and any meat you find at the deli counter, have compounds that cause cancer. Even processed meats that say they are “nitrate free” or “uncured” should be avoided.
  • Limit red meat. Aim for no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week. Instead, choose lean chicken, fish or plant-based protein.
  • Avoid alcohol. Women should have no more than one serving of alcohol per day. Men should have no more than two servings of alcohol per day. Less is better.

One final tip: Before you head to the store, plan to fill two-thirds of every plate with vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

You won’t eliminate your cancer risk by eating certain foods. But if you focus on eating a plant-based diet and maintaining a healthy weight, you will go a long way in reducing your risk.

Healthy Eating for a Healthy Liver

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