Updated 6:26 AM ET, Tue July 17, 2018
(CNN)Death rates from liver cancer increased 43% for American adults from 2000 to 2016, according to a report released Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. The increase comes even as mortality for all cancers combined has declined.
Liver cancer death rates increased for both men and women 25 and older, as well as white, black and Hispanic people. Only Asians and Pacific Islanders saw a decrease in mortality from liver cancer.
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The rise in mortality doesn't mean that liver cancer is deadlier than before, according to Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the author of the report; the 10-year survival rate for liver cancer didn't change much. Rather, the increase in mortality means more people are developing liver cancer.More than 70% of liver cancers are caused by underlying liver disease, which has risk factors such as obesity, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and hepatitis B and C infection, said Dr. Farhad Islami, the scientific director of cancer surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.
"I think the main reason for the increase in liver cancer incidence and death rate in the US is the increase in the prevalence of excess body weight and hepatitis C virus infection in baby boomers," said Islami, who authored a study on liver canceroccurrence between 1990 and 2014.
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Up until 1992, blood transfusions and organ transplants were not screened for hepatitis C, Xu said. According to the CDC, this was once a common means of hepatitis C transmission.
It is often years before a person living with hepatitis C develops liver cancer, which would account for an increase in incidence of the cancer among older individuals who received blood transfusions and organs before 1992. Liver cancer mortality was greatest in those 75 and older, followed by those 65 to 74 and 55 to 64, according to the new report.
The opioid epidemic might also be at fault, said Dr. Manish A. Shah, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian. Hepatitis C, spread by sharing needles, drove elevated rates of liver cirrhosis, or scarring due to damage to the liver, in the 1990s and 2000s, Shah said. Cirrhosis increases the risk for liver cancer, although it is not clear why, he added.
Xu said he hopes people realize lifestyle changes can decrease their risk of developing liver cancer.
"Some of these liver cancer risk factors like obesity, diabetes and excess consumption of alcohol, those things can be prevented," he said.
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