The number of deaths caused by complications from liver cancer in the United States have significantly increased since 2000, according to latest data.
From 2000 to 2016, there was a 43 percent increase of American adults who died because of the illness, as per a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics on July 16. The increase comes even as the mortality rate for all cancers combined has decreased.
Liver Cancer Death Rates Report
The death rates increased for both men and women aged 25 and older, including white, black, and Hispanic people. Only Asians and Pacific Islanders saw a decrease in liver cancer mortality, according to the data.
"From 2000 through 2016, death rates increased significantly for both men and women, with the death rate for men between two and two and a half times the rate for women," the report's summary states.
Worry not, however: rising death rates doesn't necessarily mean that liver cancer is more dangerous than before. In fact, according to report author Jiaquan Xu, the 10-year liver cancer survival rate didn't change that much. It just means that more and more people are developing the disease.
Majority of liver cancer cases stem from underlying liver diseases, the risk factors for which include smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and hepatitis B/C infections, according to Farhad Islami, director of the American Cancer Society's cancer surveillance research.
He thinks the main reason for the increased death rates is the fact that more Americans are having excess body weight. Add to that the spate of hepatitis C virus infections among baby boomers.
Liver cancer death rates was greatest among those 75 and older, according to the report.
Is The Opioid Epidemic Also To Blame For Liver Cancer Death Rates?
There might also be another cause that's often overlooked. According to medical oncologist Manish A. Shah, the opioid epidemic possibly played a role in this startling uptick. That's because hepatitis C, spread by sharing needles, caused elevated rates of liver cirrhosis, or scarring due to damage to the liver, in the 1990s and 2000s. Cirrhosis is a risk factor for liver cancer, it should be noted, although scientists are still unable to determine exactly why.
Lifestyle changes can greatly reduce one's chances of developing the disease, according to Xu. Risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, and too much alcohol consumption are totally preventable, he said.