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Liver cancer deaths on the rise

Written by Science

Statistics released by Cancer Research UK show that the number of deaths from liver cancer in the UK have risen by almost 80% between 2007 and 2017. Of all cancer types, liver cancer has seen both the largest increase in deaths over the last 10 years and the most rapid rise in deaths since UK records began.

In 2017, 5700 people in the UK died from liver cancer, compared to 3200 in 2007. Even when taking population growth into account, this equates to a rise of 50% from 5.9 people per 100,000 dying of liver cancer in 2007 compared to 8.9 in 2017.

Researchers at Cancer Research argue that a variety of factors have contributed towards these statistics. One of these is a better rate of diagnosis due to scientific developments; liver cancer is traditionally very difficult to detect in its early stages, leading to it having a poor prognosis, but the number of cases diagnosed has risen by approximately 60% in the last decade.

Despite this improved diagnosis rate, however, the number of related deaths is on the rise. A lot of factors contribute to an increased risk of liver cancer, including age, HIV/AIDS, family history and ethnicity, with black and Asian people being more likely to suffer from liver cancer. Gender is also a key risk factor, with men being almost four times more likely to suffer from liver cancer than women. Liver cancer is one of the hardest to treat, with five-year survival rates ranging from 6% to 37% depending on age and gender.

Ultimately, however, genetic factors are only one side of the coin. It is estimated that half of all liver cancer cases are preventable. By causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity is the leading cause of liver cancer, affecting 23% of all cases, and the Cancer Research team has thus attributed this rise in deaths is primarily to the rise in obesity rates. Further lifestyle choices that influence the likelihood of getting liver cancer include smoking, which is a contributing factor in 20% of all cases, drug abuse and alcohol consumption.

These findings are supported by a separate data analysis by the National Cancer Research Institute, which proved that liver cancer is a growing problem in England, with the rate of both new cases and deaths of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type, having tripled between 1997 and 2016.

The research by the National Cancer Research Institute additionally uncovered that socio-economic factors appear to increase the risk of liver cancer; instances of hepatocellular carcinoma are considerably more common among more deprived members of society, with a quarter of all diagnosed cases coming from individuals in most deprived 20% of England’s population.

Cancer Research UK expressed fears that the number of deaths from liver cancer in the UK will continue to rise, with the number of diagnosed individuals expected to rise by 38% from 2014 to 2035. Treatment options currently include surgical resection, liver transplants, microwave or radiofrequency ablation, chemotherapy, alcohol injections, and a range of medications. Following diagnosis, current survival rates in the UK are approximately 36% for the first year and over 12% for five years or more.

Last modified: 15th November 2019

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