The fastest growing cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. is liver cancer 

According to new data from the American Cancer Society, liver cancer is the fastest growing cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  Since the 1970s, liver cancer has had the fastest rise of any cancer in the U.S. and death rates have doubled since the mid-1980s.  This trend is expected to continue through at least 2030.

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For the year 2017, the American Cancer Society estimates 41,000 new cases of liver cancer are expected to be diagnosed and 29,000 people will die from this disease.  Liver cancer is now the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in men and the eighth-leading cause of cancer death in women.  Only one in five patients survives five years after a diagnosis.

Why the rise in liver cancer?

There has been much speculation on why liver cancer is now the fastest growing cause of cancer deaths.  One major factor fueling the rise is the increase in higher rates of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection among baby boomers (born between 1945 through 1965). Individuals within this age group have a 2.6% prevalence of HCV, a rate 6 times higher than that of other adults. 

Another factor is the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Carrying excess weight or being obese can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  All those excess calories have to be stored somewhere in the body, and when the body runs out of room to store them, the fat tissue overlaps into the muscles and the liver, where it normally does not go to or belong. 

Other risk factors include alcohol, which increases liver cancer risk by about 10% per drink per day, and tobacco use, which increase liver cancer risk by approximately 50%. Heavy drinkers, those who consume at least three drinks each day, are at a greater risk of alcoholic fatty liver disease which can raise the risk for cancer. 

The report also found substantial disparities in liver cancer death rates by race/ethnicity, ranging from 5.5 per 100,000 in non-Hispanic whites to 11.9 per 100,000 in American Indians/Alaska Natives.  These wide racial disparities in liver cancer mortality reflect differences in the prevalence of major risk factors but also to inequalities in access to high-quality care. 

Risk factors for liver cancer

Liver cancer has many risk factors associated with it which include the following:

·      Obesity

·      Chronic hepatitis B or C

·      Diabetes

·      Alcoholic liver disease or cirrhosis

·      Cigarette smoking

·      Hemochromatosis – a genetic disorder causing the body to absorb too much iron from food

Warning signs of liver cancer

·      Abdominal pain or swelling

·      Hard lump below the rib cage on the right side

·      Yellow skin or whites of the eyes

·      Loss of appetite

·      Unintended weight loss

·       Weakness

Reducing the risk of liver cancer

There are steps one can take to lower the risk of developing liver cancer.  Steps that can be taken to reduce the risk include:

·      Closing the gap to reduce the racial/ethnic and geographic disparities of liver cancer

·      Increase knowledge and public education on early detection and treatment of the disease

·      Improve education on screening, vaccination, and treatment of both hepatitis B and hepatitis C (HCV) virus

·      Maintain a healthy body weight

·      Better access to high-quality diabetes care

·      Prevention of excessive alcohol drinking

·      Discourage tobacco use