October 12, 2022: The number of people who will either develop liver cancer or die of it will increase by more than 55 per cent by 2040, according to a study.
Primary liver cancer was among the top three causes of cancer death in 46 countries in 2020. And among the top five causes of cancer death in nearly 100 countries, including several high-income countries.
Some 905,700 people were diagnosed with liver cancer, and 830,200 died from the disease globally in 2020, according to scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization agency based in Lyon, France. To lower these numbers, countries need to reduce the incidence of liver cancer by at least 3 per cent.
“Liver cancer causes a huge burden of disease globally each year,” senior author Isabelle Soerjomataram, MD, PhD, deputy branch head of cancer surveillance at the cancer research centre, said in a release. “It is also largely preventable if control efforts are prioritized — major risk factors include hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, alcohol consumption, excess body weight, and metabolic conditions including type 2 diabetes.”
Cancer that starts in the liver is called primary liver cancer, with the most common type being hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). A second type begins as many small cancer nodules throughout the liver, most often seen in people with cirrhosis (chronic liver damage) and is the most common.
To estimate the global burden of liver cancer and predict the number of cases and deaths in 2040, investigators used data on primary liver cancer cases and deaths from the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s GLOBOCAN 2020 database, which keeps cancer incidence and mortality estimates for 36 cancer types in 185 countries worldwide. Population projections from the United Nations were used to compute the predicted deaths.
Liver cancer incidence and mortality rates were highest in East Asia, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.
“The number of people diagnosed with or dying from liver cancer per year could increase by nearly 500,000 cases or deaths by 2040 unless we achieve a substantial decrease in liver cancer rates through primary prevention,” said Dr. Soerjomataram.
Liver Cancer Is Often Preventable
Liver cancer is often preventable. Hepatitis B and C infections from blood transfusion have come down thanks to routine testing. Still, both can be transmitted through contaminated needle sharing (illicit drug use), and hepatitis B can be transmitted through unsafe sexual contact. All these infection routes are preventable. Early diagnosis is another factor.
Alcohol abuse can lead to liver cirrhosis; abstinence or moderate use is important to prevent that. Another IARC study found that 17 per cent of liver cancer cases can be avoided by reducing alcohol consumption.
Other causes of fatty liver and cirrhosis are nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, often a result of obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. All these can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle and medicines.
Tips to avoid liver disease and cancer
- Limit your alcohol consumption. The guidelines suggest that men drink no more than two alcohol units per day and women no more than one.
- Control your weight. This can reduce the risk of developing fatty liver disease or the risk factors associated with developing fatty liver disease.
- Quit Smoking.
- Get hepatitis B vaccination.
The findings were published in the Journal of Hepatology.