Liver cancer death rates have increased by around 50% in the last decade and have tripled since records began, an analysis shows.
The calculations by Cancer Research UK reveal there were around 5,700 deaths from liver cancer in 2017 in the UK, which is the highest ever yearly number of deaths recorded. This has climbed from 3,200 deaths in 2007.
Of all cancer types, liver cancer has had the largest increase in death rates over the last decade and the most rapid rise in deaths since UK records began.
Experts at Cancer Research UK believe death rates have risen so steeply because the number of people being diagnosed with liver cancer has also increased – by 60% in the last decade – and survival is typically low.
Liver cancer is one of the hardest cancers to treat, and five-year survival can range from 6% to 37% depending on age and gender.
The disease is difficult to treat mainly because it can be hard to spot at an early stage as it often doesn’t cause symptoms until it has progressed. Because of this, emergency presentations are the most common route to diagnosing liver cancer and surgery isn’t an option for many of these patients because the disease has already spread. Clinicians find that many patients also have chronic liver disease, so symptoms of cancer can be easily missed.
Being overweight or obese and smoking are two of the biggest preventable causes: 23% of liver cancer cases can be linked to being overweight or obese and 20% can be linked to smoking. Overall, around half of cases are preventable.
Professor Helen Reeves at Newcastle University, Cancer Research UK’s liver cancer expert, said progress in treating liver cancer has been painfully slow.
“Another problem is the rise in the number of people being diagnosed, which has meant we are losing more people to this disease than ever before. Rising levels of obesity and associated conditions like diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have likely had a big role in this, although they aren’t the only factors,” she stated.
Every year, around 5,900 people are diagnosed with liver cancer in the UK and this number is projected to rise by 38% between 2014 and 2035.
Although liver cancer can happen at any age, it is most common in older people over the age of 60.