Liver Cancer Deaths Spike While Overall Cancer Deaths Fall

Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer declares cancer rates declining for both men and women across all ethnic groups, while liver cancer rates are increasing.


A new study has found that cancer death rates have been steadily declining across all genders and ethnic groups, except for one particular type of cancer.

Liver cancer rates have increased sharply and death rates for liver cancer have also increased, despite a gradual decline in most other categories.

From 2003 to 2012, both men and women were 1.5 percent less likely to die from cancer each year. Men were also less likely to be diagnosed with cancer. Diagnoses for women remained the same.

“The latest data shows many cancer prevention programs are working and saving lives,” Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a statement. “But the growing burden of liver cancer is troublesome. We need to do more work promoting hepatitis testing, treatment, and vaccination.”

Most cases of liver cancer are caused by hepatitis B (in developing countries and Asia) and hepatitis C viruses (in the US), especially if the virus is combined with heavy drinking habits. Hepatitis is a virus that can be transmitted through unprotected sex and needle use. Childbirth, some medications, toxins and alcohol can also increase the likelihood of contracting the virus, according to the CDC.

According to The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2012--a collaboration between the American Cancer Society, the CDC, the National Cancer Institute and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries--liver cancer rates increased 2.3 percent per year from 2008 to 2012. The rates of death from liver cancer increased by 2.8 percent per year for men and 3.4 percent per year for women. These rates were highest among Native American, Alaskan Native and Asian-Pacific Islander men.

According to the data, more than 20 percent of liver cancers are caused by hepatitis C, which affects those born between 1945 and 1965 at a rate six times higher than others. The CDC recommends that all those born between 1945 and 1965 get tested for hepatitis C at least once.

The CDC also recommends that Asians and Pacific Islanders not born in the US get tested for hepatitis B. Heavy alcohol use accounted for eight to 12 percent of liver cancer, according to the report.

“We have the knowledge and tools available to slow the epidemic of liver cancer in the US, including testing and treatment for [hepatitis C], hepatitis B vaccination, and lowering obesity rates,” Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said in the press release. “We hope that this report will help focus needed attention and resources on liver cancer.”

According to the report, the declining death rates might be a result of more effective prevention, early detection and treatment methods along with a decline in tobacco use.

“Collecting and analyzing high-quality cancer surveillance data is essential for tracking the benefits of screening and other prevention efforts,” Betsy Kohler, executive director of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, said in the release. “Data from an estimated 97 percent of all newly diagnosed cancer cases in the US are used in this report.

The CDC, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.