According to the American Cancer Society, liver cancer is diagnosed in over 800,000 people worldwide each year and accounts for over 700,000 cancer-related deaths each year, making it a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Liver cancer is the sixth most common form of cancer worldwide, and is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in countries outside of the United States. It is especially common in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with the three highest rates of liver cancer occurrence in 2020 seen in Mongolia, Egypt, and Laos.
As October is Liver Cancer Awareness month, it is important to note the effect that the disease has across the world. A study published in the Journal of Hepatology has revealed that the estimated number of liver cancer deaths and diagnoses will increase by 55% by the year 2040. The study’s researchers noted that countries need to achieve at least a 3% reduction in annual liver cancer rates to avoid this rise by 2040.
Liver Cancer Risk Factors Worldwide
Many forms of liver cancer are preventable by setting public health measures in place that can reduce exposure to risk factors. The study’s senior author, Isabelle Soerjomataram, MD, PhD, deputy branch head of cancer surveillance for the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, noted that liver cancer is “largely preventable if control efforts are prioritized — major risk factors include hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus, alcohol consumption, excess body weight, and metabolic conditions including type 2 diabetes.”
Efforts to Reduce Liver Cancer Diagnoses
About 56% of liver cancer cases worldwide are caused by hepatitis B, and 20% of cases are caused by hepatitis C. These rates can be lowered through the use and adoption of hepatitis B vaccinations, along with safety precautions for preventing the transmission of blood-borne illnesses through sterile needle supplies and blood product safety interventions. In 2020, global coverage with three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine was 83%, with 42% of children receiving a dose at birth. In 2021, the World Health Organization enacted a Global Immunization Strategic Framework for 2021-2030 with set goals to prevent and detect vaccine preventable diseases (VPD) worldwide, as well as response plans for VPD outbreaks.
Besides hepatitis, 18% of cases worldwide are attributed to tobacco use, and 17% of cases are caused by alcohol use. A study published in 2018 based on The Liver Cancer Pooling Project found that current smokers at baseline had a higher risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. In people who quit smoking over 30 years prior, their risk of developing HCC was equivalent to that of a non-smoker’s risk. Those who consume excess amounts of alcohol were also found to have an 87% higher risk of developing HCC, showing that global reduction in alcohol consumption and tobacco use can help reduce liver cancer rates worldwide.
By implementing methods worldwide to prevent the incidence of liver cancer through hepatitis vaccinations and alcohol and tobacco interventions, the global rate of liver cancer can be lowered gradually.