Liver Cancer Deaths Continue To Rise As Total Cancer Rates Fall
As research and science continues to advance, the good news is that it is also advancing towards better and more speedy treatments of one of the deadliest diseases today – cancer. Cancer rates have steadily plummeted since 2000 as more and more advanced treatments were found and used for various types of cancer and as detection for cancers was also improved to diagnose cancer earlier. The science has been working, and cancer death rates have fallen steadily.
Unfortunately, there is one type of cancer that has proven elusive for scientists to treat and detect better. Liver cancer death rates have actually increased since 2000 and especially for populations of patients between 55 and up to above 75. The death rates stayed the same for patients between 25 and 54 years of age. The report by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also found that all ethnic populations other than non-Hispanic Asians and Pacific Islanders had increases in death rates – although Asians and Pacific Islanders were the population that already had the highest death rates to begin with.
So what makes liver cancer so different than the rest of the types of cancer? Why is it that where research has made headway in treatment and prevention, liver cancer has eluded scientists and continues to increase in death rates? There might be a few different reasons for this problem and none of them are clear cut. Liver cancer can be a unique cancer that sometimes takes years to manifest and can be unfortunately provoked by lifestyle choices.
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Causation And Symptoms
There are three types of liver cancer, although one type is usually the most common while the other two are rare. The most common, hepatocellular carcinoma, begins in the main type of liver cell, the hepatocyte. The other types of liver cancer include intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and hepatoblastoma. Hepatocellular carcinoma occurs most often in people with chronic liver diseases like cirrhosis from hepatitis B or C infections.
Hepatitis B is contracted through the contact of bodily fluids, such as blood or from unprotected sex. Hepatitis C is also contracted through infected blood, but not from unprotected sex. Extended periods of time with these diseases will usually cause cirrhosis of the liver, if not properly treated, and this can lead to liver cancer. But cirrhosis of the liver can also be caused by viral hepatitis, which is contracted the way a virus usually is, or from excessive drinking or fat in your diet. Another cause of liver cancer can be exposure to aflatoxins, a poison produced by molds that grow on improperly stored crops. These types of toxins are most common in parts of Africa and Asia.
The symptoms of liver cancer don’t usually show up in the early stages of the cancer, which is why liver cancer is so hard to diagnose early. Most people don’t know that they have anything wrong until the signs start showing up, by which point the cancer is already progressed. Symptoms of liver cancer in the later stages include losing weight without trying, loss of appetite, upper abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, general weakness and fatigue, abdominal swelling, jaundice and yellow or chalky white stools.
The diagnosis of liver cancer, although relatively simple, has not been update in a while and thus is still simplistic and can be a problem when diagnosing. To test for liver cancer, a patient must either have blood drawn, have an imaging test such as an MRI or CT scan, or have a liver biopsy done. All of these methods must be done in a hospital or lab and are not the kind of test that make diagnosis easy. Patients or doctors must request these tests and they can only do so if there is already the suspicion of liver cancer.
There are a few different current treatments for liver cancer at the moment. Depending on the extent of the liver cancer, the patient will either undergo surgery or localized treatment. Surgeries involve either removing the tumor or removing the entire liver if the cancer is extensive enough. In the latter case, a liver transplant is also necessary. Localized treatments include heating or freezing the cancer cells, injecting alcohol into the tumor, injecting chemotherapy into the liver or a new treatment of inserting beads filled with radiation inside the liver.
Radiation and targeted drug therapy are also options for treatment. Radiation therapy is mostly used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Drug therapies have proven somewhat effective at slowing or stopping the progression of cancer in the liver, although more research is needed as to how exactly the drugs used do this. During the time of treatment, patients might also opt for palliative care which focuses on reliving any pain that the patient might have associated with their disease or treatment of it.
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Death Rates Rising
Because of the nature of the disease, liver cancer death rates have still been rising as other cancer death rates fall. Liver cancer can be brought on by cirrhosis of the liver or a handful of other causes but the symptoms don’t show up until it has already progressed past the early stages, making it extremely difficult to catch early. The diagnosis for liver cancer is still fairly hard to do as well; it involves blood tests, MRI or CT scans and liver biopsies. Treatments haven’t improved either and thus the rate at which the cancer was completely eliminated stayed stagnant or even declined.
Liver cancer can also be brought on by large amounts of fatty deposits and this fact is one of the reasons that liver cancer rates have increased in the last few years. Because the diagnosis and treatment haven’t changed much, the increase in patients means also an increase in death rates. While other cancers have been able to be more managed, liver cancer has seen an increase not due to lack of treatment or options but largely due to many Americans’ poor diet.
Liver cancer is a disease that more and more people are dealing with and the rates of diagnosis and treatment haven’t improved much. In fact, while other cancers have had a victorious decline in their death rates, liver cancer has only increased the death rate for its patients. Cancer of the liver can be due to a few different factors, and some people are at more risk than others, of which the main ones include cirrhosis of the liver and long-term living with hepatitis or being obese. Because hepatitis causes scarring of the liver and obesity results in fatty deposits in the liver, which can also cause scarring of the liver, the risk for liver cancer is increased. Preventative measures are always best when it comes to such difficult cancers – limiting alcohol, fatty foods, and taking extra precautions with sexual partners can all help to keep your body free of liver stressors.