The number of liver cancer cases has nearly tripled in the United States over the past three decades. The National Cancer Institute estimates that new cases of liver and bile duct cancer have been rising 2.7 percent each year over the past 10 years.
Liver cancer is more common in men than women, and it’s most frequently diagnosed among people age 55 to 64. In 2017 the disease is expected to account for about 41,000 new cancer cases and 29,000 cancer deaths in the United States.
According to the American Cancer Society, infection with the hepatitis C virus is the more common cause of liver cancer in the United States, while in Asia and developing countries, hepatitis B is the more common cause. People infected with both viruses have a high risk of developing chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. The risk is even higher if they are heavy drinkers (at least 6 alcoholic drinks a day).Other risk factors for liver cancer include obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Because liver cancer tends to be symptomless, it typically isn’t detected until its late stages. Less than one in five patients will survive five years.
Liver cancer symptoms
Late-stage liver cancer might cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pain in the upper abdomen on the right side
- A lump or a feeling of heaviness in the upper abdomen
- A bloated or swollen abdomen
- Loss of appetite and feelings of fullness
- Weight loss
- Weakness or feeling very tired
- Nausea and vomiting
- Yellow skin and eyes, pale stools, and dark urine from jaundice
Screening for hepatitis C
Chronic hepatitis C can also be symptomless, so many people are unaware they have the virus. It may be 20 to 30 years before it silently develops into cancer.
People born between 1945 and 1965—baby boomers—are at increased risk for hepatitis C because they may have been exposed to the virus before efforts were made to better protect the blood supply against contamination. That’s why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a federal panel of medical experts, is recommending that doctors offer people born during 1945 to 1965 a one-time blood test to screen for hepatitis C. Medicare covers screening costs.
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