Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in men and the ninth most common cancer in women worldwide. The incidence rate of liver cancer is larger in developing countries, but is, unfortunately, rapidly growing in the U.S.
- An estimated 42,230 new cases of liver cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021, with 30,230 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- For the 44% of people who are diagnosed with liver cancer at localized-stage, the five-year survival rate is 34%.
- For those people diagnosed with liver cancer at regional stages, the five-year survival rate drops to 12%.
- In the U.S., liver cancer incidence has more than tripled since 1980.
- Liver cancer is approximately three times as likely to occur in men than in women.
- The liver is a common place where cancer spreads. Colorectal, breast, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, kidney, lung and melanoma skin cancers are the most common sources of cancer
- Approximately 70% of liver cancer cases in the US could potentially be prevented through elimination of risk factors, the most important include: excess body weight; type 2 diabetes; infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or hepatitis C (HCV), heavy alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and GLOBOCAN, 2020
Signs and Symptoms
A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
- Weight loss (without trying)
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling very full after a small meal
- Nausea or vomiting
- An enlarged liver, felt as fullness under the ribs on the right side
- An enlarged spleen, felt as fullness under the ribs on the left side
- Pain in the abdomen (belly) or near the right shoulder blade
- Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen (belly)
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
Source: American Cancer Society 2021
Liver Cancer Awareness Month is recognized in October. To help accelerate cures please make a gift today.
Researchers Working on Liver Cancer
Liver Cancer: A Primer
With October being recognized as Liver Cancer Awareness Month, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) presents to you a quick overview of the disease—and too insight into the importance of early detection and recent advances to that end. According to a July 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from liver cancer soared 43% in the years spanning 2000 to 2016. With the exceptions of ethnic Asians and Pacific Islanders, increased mortality rose for all groups across racial and gender lines. This spike actually pushed the disease to the sixth leading cause of cancer death in 2016, whereas it had been ninth at the turn of the millennium. “And unfortunately, the symptoms are nothing—patients usually have none at all to start,” says Dr. Talal Adhami, a member of the American Liver Foundation’s National Medical Advisory Committee, highlighting why this particular cancer is so notoriously hard to recognize. “That’s why they have to go on a surveillance protocol with an ultrasound every six months.” By the time symptoms do present themselves—often in the forms of abdominal pain, fatigue, jaundice, liver failure and/or swelling around the belly—it is a dire sign that the cancer has progressed into its advanced stages. But it is also not unusual for even advanced liver cancer to present no symptoms. Adhami admits that when liver cancer is finally diagnosed, most often the prospects for a cure are already dim. But that is not to say science is completely in the dark. While liver cancer itself can fly under the radar, only very rarely does it spontaneously occur. Adhami stresses that any sort of liver scarring, no matter the cause, increases risk. Smoking and obesity are two conditions also known to contribute to liver cancer, and even poisoning via some molds and mushrooms. However, liver cancer most often precipitates out of standing liver conditions whose symptoms are far more easily recognized. In the case of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, people with chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis caused by hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections, are considered most at risk. Both present symptoms that are difficult to go unnoticed, such as dark urine, vomiting, itchy skin, abdominal swelling and swelling of the legs. Alcoholism is also, perhaps famously so, a cause of cirrhosis. Alcoholic hepatitis presents symptoms including jaundice and also vomiting. It is due to the high-risk factors of these diseases that patients are put under surveillance. Unfortunately, each of these conditions themselves are very gradual in their development. Indeed, Dr. Jiaquan Xu, the author of the CDC report, suggests the present rise in liver cancer deaths may stem all the way back to before 1992, the year it became mandatory for blood transfusions and organ transplants to be screened for hepatitis C, whose progress is extremely slow. The CDC lists both procedures as a one-time most common means of hepatitis C transmissions. Adhami adds that hepatitis B infection, also slow-acting, now most often occurs during pregnancy from mother to child. “But if you bring hepatitis B under control,” he goes on to say, “you […]