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Liver Cancer Deaths Are Skyrocketing While Overall Cancer Deaths Are Falling. Here’s One Possible Reason Why

July 17, 2018, 11:19 AM UTC

Mortality rates for liver cancer patients are growing.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, death rates from this cancer increased 43% from 2000 to 2016. This increase in liver cancer deaths is particularly noteworthy, as overall mortality rates for all types of cancer have declined.

The increased mortality rates were seen amongst nearly all groups, with the exception of Asians and Pacific Islanders, who saw a decrease in deaths from liver cancer. Men are generally more likely to develop liver cancer and the report found that the death rate of liver cancer for men was 2 to 2.5 times higher than it was for women. Nevertheless, both men and women saw increases in mortality rates in the period studied.

The increase means that more people are developing liver cancer rather than the cancer becoming more deadly. Liver cancer typically develops due to underlying liver diseases. Dr. Farhad Islami, the scientific director of cancer surveillance at the American Cancer Society, explained to CNN that more than 70% of liver cancer cases can be attributed to risk factors like obesity, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and hepatitis B and C infection.

Islami suggests that one of the possible explanations for an increase in liver cancer is due to the fact that blood transfusions and organ transplants were not screened for hepatitis C until 1992. Once someone is infected with hepatitis C, it can take years for them to develop liver cancer, Islami explained to CNN.

Despite the variation in liver cancer rates between men and women, survival rates are the same—like most cancers, the sooner it’s caught, the higher the survival rate. But liver cancer is causing more deaths than before. It was the ninth leading cause of cancer death in 2000, rising to sixth in 2016.