Causes of liver cancer are changing, study finds

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The primary causes of liver cancer are well known: viral (hepatitis B and C), alcohol and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a condition in which fat builds up in the liver, resulting in chronic inflammation and damage.

Scientists from the University of California San Diego found the causes of liver cancer are changing—and the prognosis is mixed.

On the plus side, advances in hepatitis B (HBV) vaccinations and greater availability of antiviral therapies have reduced HBV-associated liver cancer.

On the negative, alcohol drinking and the prevalence of obesity (another risk factor) are rising dramatically.

The research is published in Cell Metabolism and was conducted by Rohit Loomba et al.

In the study, the team methodology from the Global Burden of Disease Study, an ongoing research collaboration involving more than 3,600 researchers in 145 countries, to survey worldwide incidence of liver cancer, and more specifically, global and regional changes in the causes of liver cancer.

Between 2010 and 2019, the team found, there was a 27 percent increase in liver cancer cases across the 204 countries surveyed, a 25 percent increase in liver cancer deaths and a 21 percent increase in disability-adjusted life years (DALY), a statistical measure that accounts for the adverse effects of disease apart from death.

One DALY is the equivalent loss of one year of full health. In 2019 alone, there were an estimated 12.5 million DALYs due to liver cancer.

The team found liver cancer prevalence is uneven around the world.

In 2019, for example, liver cancer death rates were highest in Asia (including countries like China, Japan, Thailand and Mongolia) and lowest in most of Africa.

NASH was the fastest-growing cause of liver cancer deaths globally, especially in the Americas, driven by rapidly rising obesity rates.

The prevalence of obesity in the U.S. in 2017 was 42.4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, up from 30.5 percent in 2000.

Researchers said the incidence of liver cancer due to NASH is projected to increase further in the U.S., Europe and Asia over the next 10 years, tracking with rising rates of obesity.

Alcohol was the second fastest-rising cause of liver cancer, again with the highest increase in the Americas. Global alcohol-per-capital consumption was projected to rise further, especially in Western Pacific and Southeast Asia countries.

The researchers found one thing that hasn’t changed: Liver cancer continues to kill. It is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide.

In 2020, more than 830,000 persons around the world died from the disease, with approximately 30,000 deaths in the United States alone.

If you care about liver health, please read studies about hormone therapy that may reduce common liver disease, and a high-protein diet may help prevent fatty liver.

For more information about liver disease, please see recent studies about green diet that may strongly lower non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and results showing how to reverse type 2 diabetes and deadly liver disease.

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