Liver cancer incidence has increased over time in the United States, and chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus now plays an important role in many cases. These results were published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for many vital functions. Among other things, the liver removes harmful substances from the blood, contributes to the digestion of food, and stores nutrients and energy.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer (cancer that begins in the liver). Factors that increase the risk of developing HCC include long-term, heavy alcohol use and chronic infection with hepatitis B or C viruses.
Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Historically, rates of HCC have been lower in the United States than in other countries, but the disease is on the rise.
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To explore trends in HCC in a single, well-defined population, researchers collected information about liver cancer cases diagnosed in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Information was available about 104 people who had been diagnosed between 1976 and 2008.
- The frequency of new cases increased over time. The number of new cases per 100,000 people per year was 3.5 during 1976-1990, 3.8 during 1991-2000, and 6.9 during 2001-2008.
- Alcohol use was the most common risk factor among cases diagnosed during the earliest two time periods. In the most recent time period (2001-2008), hepatitis C was the most common risk factor, and was found in close to 45 percent of the cases.
- Liver cancer survival also increased over time. Median survival increased from 3 months in the earliest time period to 9 months in the most recent time period.
These results provide additional evidence that the frequency of liver cancer has increased sharply in the US, and that chronic infection with hepatitis C is a major contributor.
Reference: Yang JD, Kim B, Sanderson SO et al. Hepatocellular carcinoma in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1976-2008. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2012;87:9-16.