In December, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D–Illinois) introduced the Liver Illness Visibility, Education and Research (LIVER) Act, a bill to increase federal support for liver cancer and hepatitis B research and to make screening and prevention services more accessible. The legislation (SB3074) is currently under consideration by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
“Far too many Americans have died due to liver cancer, a disease that disproportionately impacts the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community,” Duckworth said in a press statement. “I’m proud to introduce this important legislation in the Senate today to help make sure the federal government is properly investing in studying liver cancer, finding a cure and increasing access to preventive and primary cancer services that detect the disease early and save lives.”
Last May, Representative Nydia Velazquez (D–New York) introduced a parallel House bill (HR3016) . It is under consideration in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. A previous version of the bill failed to pass in the 2018–2019 House session.
Over years or decades, chronic hepatitis B or C, heavy alcohol use and other causes of liver injury can lead to serious complications, including cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common type of liver cancer) and the need for a liver transplant. Now that hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine and hepatitis C can be easily cured with direct-acting antivirals, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its more severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), are a growing cause of advanced liver disease.
Liver cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. It is among the few cancers with rising prevalence and mortality in the United States, although the latest figures suggest rates are stabilizing. Around 42,800 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with liver cancer and about 30,200 will die from it this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders—populations with a high hepatitis B rate—are more likely to develop liver cancer than other racial and ethnic groups. Latino people and African immigrants also have higher liver cancer rates than whites.
The LIVER Act would amend the Public Health Service Act “to provide for and support liver illness visibility, education, and research, and for other purposes.”
Specifically, the act would boost funding for liver cancer and hepatitis B research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by $45 million per year over five years. It would also increase funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by $90 million per year for five years for prevention and awareness efforts, including screening, vaccination and treatment for hepatitis B and C, NAFLD and cirrhosis.
In addition, the bill would raise the profile of liver disease at the NIH by renaming the relevant institute the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, Kidney and Liver Diseases, elevate the Liver Branch within that institute and direct the NIH to establish an inter-institute working group to coordinate hepatitis B and liver cancer research, according to Duckworth’s office.
The LIVER Act has been endorsed by several advocacy organizations including the AIDS Institute, AIDS United, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organization, the Global Liver Institute, the Hepatitis B Foundation and the Liver Health Coalition.
Click here to follow progress on the Senate bill.
Click here to follow progress on the House bill.
Click here to learn more about liver cancer in the Asian community.