Recent news has highlighted the decline in cancer deaths in the United States, and while it is good news that death rates for some of the most common forms of cancer have dropped, the news does not run across the board for all cancers.
In fact, liver cancer deaths have been on the rise in the United States. The American Liver Foundation estimates that 16,780 people in the United States will die this year of liver cancer, an increase of 580 deaths from 2006 and 4,000 deaths from only ten years ago.
"We are overjoyed at the news about the overall decline in cancer deaths," said Dr. James Boyer, chair of the board of the American Liver Foundation. "However it is important not to ignore the very clear fact that liver cancer is one of the few cancers that are claiming more lives."
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More than 19,000 cases of liver cancer will be diagnosed this year. Compare that to the 13,000 cases diagnosed in 1997, and one cause for the increase in liver cancer deaths becomes clear.
"Although survival rates for liver cancer are slowly improving, more people are being diagnosed with the disease than ever before," said Boyer.
But what is causing the increasing rates of liver cancer? Most cases of liver cancer are linked to cirrhosis of the liver, a condition caused when scar tissue begins to replace healthy liver tissue. Cirrhosis is a common long-term side effect of long-term, excessive alcohol consumption, as well as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and fatty liver disease.
"The increase in liver cancer is due to the near epidemic rates of many liver diseases," said Boyer. "The hepatitis C virus, for example, is the fourth leading cause of liver cancer-related deaths in the United States.
Both hepatitis B and C are viral infections. Over four million Americans have been infected with hepatitis C, while 1.4 million have been infected with hepatitis B. It is estimated that as much as 20 percent of the American population has fatty liver disease, a side-effect of diabetes and obesity.
Fortunately, both hepatitis B and fatty liver disease can be prevented. There is a vaccine available for hepatitis B and fatty liver disease can be prevented with weight control. For patients with hepatitis C, the risk of liver cancer can be reduced with adequate treatment.
If you are at risk for developing liver cancer, be sure to be vigilant about screening. Early detection of liver cancer is a sure way of increasing your chance of survival.