Despite lower mortality rates for all kinds of cancer, the number of deaths caused by liver cancer is skyrocketing. Why?

By Natasha Bach
July 17, 2018
Credit: Kelly Sillaste/Getty Images

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 prior Hepatitis B and C infections. 

But other key risk factors that lead to greater chances of developing live cancer involve poor diet and obesity, smoking, and excess alcohol consumption. Islami suggests that another possible explanation 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.

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. Could a healthy diet help reduce the chance of developing liver cancer? Possibly—but you can add liver cancer to the growing list of things that could be influenced by dietary choices.