October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month, and with 41,210 new cases estimated for liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer for 2023, and 29,380 deaths, awareness is crucial.
The two primary types of liver cancer are hepatocellular carcinoma and cholangiocarcinoma. Hepatocellular is the most common type of liver cancer, but it is still relatively rare in the United States compared to the rest of the world. But cases are increasing. Since 1980, liver cancer rates have tripled, and deaths have more than doubled.
So, what exactly does the liver do? Located in the upper right hand portion of the abdomen, the liver helps filter substances from the blood, helps with digestion by producing bike, and stores sugar that the body uses for energy.
The most common risk factors for liver cancer are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or cirrhosis. Additionally, it's more common in men than women and among those with Asian, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaskan Native populations. In fact, Asian American men are 60 percent more likely to die from liver cancer than white men.
Stereotactic radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and drug combinations can slow the progression and improve the survival outcomes for patients.
According to the CDC, 65% of liver cancer cases are related to hepatitis B or C. Chronic infections from hepatitis B, over time, can lead to liver damage — like scarring of the liver — and, eventually, cancer.
Other risk factors are obesity, alcohol use, and fatty liver disease.
Why Liver Cancer Awareness Month is crucial
Mona S. Jhaveri, a biotech scientist who focuses on cancer research and detection, founded Music Beats Cancer, which addresses the funding gap, AKA the "Valley of Death," in cancer research. The platform partners with musical acts to support their fund towards closing the gap in cancer research.
Healthnews asked Jhaveri a few questions regarding liver cancer and why staying informed can save lives.
Q: How many people are diagnosed with liver cancer every year, and how many people die from the cancer?
Since the 1980s, the incidence of liver cancer has more than tripled, with over 40,000 adults diagnosed with liver cancer in 2023. Survival rates are based on the stage, age, general health, and how well the treatment protocol works. In general, the overall 5-year survival rate is 17%. If caught early, the survival rate is about 30%, but late-stage liver cancer, where the cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes, is dismal, about 11%.
Q: Why are the cases of liver cancer rising around the globe?
Worldwide, liver cancer is considered to be a leading cause of death. In 2023, over 800,000 people died of liver cancer in 2020 — 75% of liver cancer occurs in Asia, with China accounting for over 50% of the world's burden. It's believed that Hepatitis B and C infections are a major reason for the rise in global liver cancer cases. The other source of liver cancer is chronic alcoholism. Both Hepatitis infections and alcoholism are common causes of cirrhosis, which increase the risk of liver cancer.
Q: Can you tell me about liver cancer research and the importance of continuing research?
Research is underway to evaluate the role of radiation in treating liver cancer, but also the development of immunotherapies that can be used for patients whose cancers can not be treated by surgery.
Q: What are some treatments for liver cancer?
Surgery is the main treatment for liver cancer, where the tumor gets removed along with surrounding healthy tissue. There are also several immunotherapies that have been approved and are believed to be better than chemotherapy in managing the long-term control of liver cancer.
One exciting new method is "histotripsy," which uses focused ultrasound to selectively target and destroy tumor tissue without an invasive procedure. It is considered safer and more tolerable than surgery.
Q: How can people work towards preventing liver cancer?
The best way to help lower the risk of liver cancer is by getting the hepatitis B vaccine and by refraining from heavy use of alcohol.
Q: How important is awareness, especially in places like the U.S., where we may be dealing with more cases in the future?
Awareness is important in the U.S. and around the world. As liver cancer is rising in incidence and survival rates for this disease are dismal, the best method of attack is education and awareness on the risks of alcoholism as well as programs that provide easy access to the hepatitis B vaccine. This needs to happen globally if we are to see declining numbers of cases.