Why Have Liver Cancer Death Rates Skyrocketed in the Past 16-Years?

Despite mortality rates for all types of cancer combined decreasing, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics released a report today claiming that the liver cancer death rates have increased by 43% from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 10.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2016. This trend was observed in men and women ages 25 and up, with Asians and Pacific Islanders being the only demographic displaying a decease and white adults displaying the lowest liver cancer death rates of any racial group. This increase was most pronounced in those who were 75 and older and became less profound as age decreased.

With the survival rate for liver cancer showing little change, the researchers accredit this increase in mortality to more people contracting liver cancer rather than the disease becoming more lethal. Dr. Farhad Islami, director of cancer research at the American Cancer Society, believes that the increase in obesity and hepatitis C infections in baby boomers plays a large role in this mortality increase.

Hepatitis C screening was absent in blood transfusions and organ transplants prior to 1992, a flaw that the CDC accredits many hepatitis C transmissions to. Frequently, those with hepatitis C go several years before developing liver cancer, which would account for the current increase in cancer among those receiving their blood or organ donation around 1992. Sharing of needles may also be at fault for this spread of hepatitis C, an issue tied closely to the opioid epidemic.

The report also found that liver cancer mortality was 2-2.5 times greater in men than it was in women over the 16-year time frame. Dr. Manish A. Shah, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian states that this could be a result of increased drug use and obesity rates in men. He claims that survival rates are similar in men and women who have developed liver cancer, with localized cancer having a 5-year survival rate of 31%, cancer that has spread to an adjacent organ having an 11% survival rate, and cancer that has spread further having a 3% survival rate.

For more information, the full CDC report can be accessed here.

Sources: CNN, Live Science