HCV-Related Liver Cancer Rates Rise as Other Cancers Fall

Deaths related to liver cancer from hepatitis C virus increase during a time when overall cancer deaths continue to decline.

Hepatitis C virus has contributed to an increased rate in liver cancer and related deaths during a time when overall cancer deaths continue to decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Among both women and men combined, overall cancer rates decreased by 1.5% each year for nearly a decade, from 2003 to 2012, according to the Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer (1975-2012). The report is a collaborative publication prepared by the CDC, along with the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries.

Prevention and early detection efforts have led to the ongoing decline in cancer incidence, which are new cancer cases that are diagnosed per 100,000 people in the United States, according to a CDC release. By contrast, new cases of liver cancer are heading skyward.

“The latest data show many cancer prevention programs are working and saving lives,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, stated in the release. “But the growing burden of liver cancer is troublesome. We need to do more work promoting hepatitis testing, treatment, and vaccination.”

Hepatitis C and Liver Cancer

In the US, the incidence of liver cancer rose an average of 2.3% each year overall during the four-year period from 2008 to 2012. Among women the liver cancer death rate per year increased an average of 3.4% while the rise was slightly lower among men at 2.8% per year, according to the release.

During the same four-year span, men were diagnosed with liver cancer about two times as often as women among all races and ethnicities. The highest liver cancer incidence rates were among Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native men, followed by non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander men, the release states.

Chronic infection of the hepatitis C virus can inflame and damage the liver over time and is one major reason for the increasing liver cancer rates, the authors noted in the report. More than 20% of the most common liver cancers are attributed to the viral infection.

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

Health officials estimate that there are roughly 3 million people in the U.S who are infected with hepatitis C, however, many may not know it because they lack symptoms. The CDC recommends that anyone born from 1945 to 1965 get a one-time test for the virus, noting that people in that age group are 6 times more likely than other adults to be infected, according to the release.