Bucking the national trend of declining overall cancer rates, liver cancer incidence is quickly rising in the United States, driven by hepatitis B and C virus (HBV and HCV) infection in an aging population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries published findings about viral hepatitis’ impact on liver cancer rates in the group’s Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2012.

The rate of most cancers is falling in the United States. Liver cancer, on the other hand, increased 2.3 percent per year overall between 2003 and 2012, a rate of increase only behind that of thyroid cancer. The rate of deaths resulting from liver cancer is increasing at a faster clip than for any other form of cancer.

Half of all new cases of liver cancer are related to hep C, and 15 percent are related to hep B. Those living with either virus are at the greatest risk of liver cancer.

The number of new cases of liver cancer increased from 16,265 in 2003 to 28,012 in 2012, a 72 percent increase. In 2012, nearly 23,000 U.S. residents died from liver cancer, representing a 56 percent increase in the number of deaths compared with 2003. Hep C and liver cancer-related death rates were highest among baby boomers—those born between 1945 and 1965. The vast majority of Americans living with hep C were born during this period.

“We have the tools we need to reverse this alarming trend—vaccination for hepatitis B, and testing and treatment for hepatitis B and C,” John W. Ward, MD, director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, said in a press release. “But we urgently need to do more to ensure that these tools are available to and used by everyone who needs them.

“Antiviral medications can reduce liver cancer risk by up to 80 percent in people living with hepatitis B, but fewer than 15 percent of treatment-eligible individuals are currently prescribed them,” Ward said. “Treatment for hepatitis C is equally effective at reducing the risk of liver cancer. Most hepatitis C infections can be cured in just two to three months, reducing liver cancer risk by 75 percent.”

To read a CDC fact sheet on the report, click here.

To read a joint press release on the report from the CDC, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, click here.

To read the report, click here

To read Ward’s complete statement, click here