Over the last two decades, deaths caused by liver cancer have increased by 80% 1, making it one of the fastest-growing causes of cancer deaths worldwide.
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date, 830,000 people died as a result of the disease in 2016 compared to 464,000 people in 1990.1 This makes liver cancer the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, after lung cancer.
Primary liver cancer, the most prevalent liver cancer worldwide, can be attributed to heavy drinking and other lifestyle choices but is most commonly caused by long-term infection with the hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. These viruses are a major public health challenge, affecting over 325 million people, worldwide.
Globally, two out of three liver cancer deaths are caused by hepatitis B or C. 1 The Western Pacific and South East Asia regions record the largest numbers of people living with the viruses and also some of the highest cases of liver cancer deaths globally. In China alone, over 260,000 liver cancer deaths caused by hepatitis B and C were recorded in 2016, accounting for a third of the global liver cancer death toll. 1
According to the findings, the hepatitis C virus was responsible for 160,000 liver deaths in 2016. The USA was amongst the top three countries with the highest numbers, alongside Japan and China. The American Cancer Society suggests this is because of the high rate of hepatitis C infection among baby boomers (born between 1945 through 1965), of which prevalence is approximately 2.6%, a rate 6-fold greater than that of other adults in the USA. Highly-effective cures for hepatitis C do exist which can halt progression to liver cancer, however only 3 of the 71 million people living with the virus globally, have accessed these life-saving treatments in the last two years.
The study also found that 350,000 liver cancer deaths were caused by the hepatitis B virus, of which China and India accounted for 80% of these. 1 The high majority of these deaths could have been prevented if people received the hepatitis B vaccination after birth. Today, only 52% of countries provide the hepatitis B birth dose vaccine to newborns.
"What many people don't realise is the correlation between the sharp increase in liver cancer deaths and the hepatitis B and C viruses", said Michael Ninburg, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance. "The rise in deaths is ultimately a result of poor vaccination coverage, lack of routine testing and inadequate access to effective treatment".
"Ahead of World Cancer Day, we are asking people go get tested for hepatitis B and C because that is a first vital step in prevention", said Raquel Peck, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance. "Together, we can stop cancer in its tracks".
Notes to editors:
Head of Communications
World Hepatitis Alliance
About Viral Hepatitis
Viral hepatitis is inflammation of the liver caused by a virus. According to WHO, the total deaths caused by viral hepatitis, including acute cases, cirrhosis and liver cancer, account for 1.34 million deaths globally. There are five different hepatitis viruses - hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Hepatitis A is spread mainly through ingestion of contaminated food and water and the disease is often endemic in countries with a lack of safe water and poor sanitation. Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person and approximately 257 million people are living with chronic infections. Hepatitis C is mainly spread through blood-to-blood contact such as unsafe injection practices and inadequate sterilisation of medical equipment. Today, 71 million people are living with the disease. Hepatitis D is passed on through contact with infected blood and only occurs in people who are already infected with hepatitis B. Hepatitis E, like hepatitis A, is transmitted through ingesting contaminated food or water.
The World Hepatitis Alliance
The World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) is a patient-led and patient driven non-governmental organisation. With 256 member patient groups from 87 countries, WHA works with governments, national members and other key partners to harness the power of people living with viral hepatitis to achieve its elimination by 2030. http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/
About the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016
The Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) is the most comprehensive worldwide observational epidemiological study to date collected and analysed by a consortium of more than 3,000 researchers in more than 140 countries and territories. The data captures premature death and disability from more than 300 diseases and injuries in 195 countries, by age and sex, from 1990 to the present, allowing comparisons over time, across age groups, and among populations.
GBD is coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle
GBD Results tool: http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbd-results-tool
GBD Compare tool: https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare/