Liver cancer is a tough battle, and it’s getting even tougher. While we’ve seen a drop in many types of cancer in the United States, liver cancer is going in the opposite direction. It’s on the rise, affecting around 25,000 males and 11,000 females every year. But here’s the kicker: It’s not hitting everyone the same way. A new study, published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, has uncovered a disturbing truth. The study shows that race and where your family comes from can play a big role in how liver cancer affects you! Let’s dive in.
The Liver Cancer Surge
First things first, let’s talk about what’s happening. Liver cancer is becoming more common, and it’s been going up by a scary 48 percent since 2000. That’s a big jump! Each year, thousands of people are learning they have this tough disease, and it’s a reminder that we need to take it seriously.
Hepatocellular carcinoma etiologies differ "remarkably" by race/ethnicity, and the variation may warrant specific interventions for different populations, a new review suggests. #OncTwitter https://t.co/hNLPb4YUR7— Medscape (@Medscape) September 11, 2023
The Changing Causes of Liver Cancer
Before we dive into how race and ethnicity play a role, let’s chat about what’s causing liver cancer. Traditionally, 90% of them take place because of hepatitis B or C infections, fatty liver disease, or problems linked to drinking too much alcohol. But lately, things have been shifting. Thanks to some awesome new medicines, we’ve been seeing fewer liver cancer cases connected to hepatitis C. But on the flip side, we’re noticing more cases linked to fatty liver disease. This is a big deal because it’s often tied to being higher-weight or having diabetes.
Dr. Paulo Pinheiro, who is one of the researchers behind the study we’re talking about, warns that even though it might seem like liver cancer rates are staying steady, some risks are going up! And we’ve got to figure out how to stop them, especially because liver cancer is tough to beat, with only an 18 percent survival rate.
Race, Ethnicity, and Liver Cancer: Unraveling the Complex Tapestry
Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Liver cancer doesn’t care who you are, but it does seem to affect some groups more than others. People with lower incomes, less schooling, immigrants, veterans, and people in jail are hit harder. Why? Because they often can’t get the healthcare they need when they need it. And when it comes to liver cancer, early detection and treatment can make all the difference.
A Closer Look at Different Groups
This study didn’t just look at the big categories like “Hispanic” or “African American.” It went deeper and found that there are lots of different groups within those categories. For example, among Hispanics, you have Central Americans, Cubans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and South Americans. African Americans aren’t all the same either; there are Haitians and West Indians among them. And guess what? These groups have different rates and causes of liver cancer.
Surprising Discoveries That Challenge Stereotypes
Variations Among Hispanics: Puerto Rican men have a much higher liver cancer rate compared to Cuban men. This tells us that it’s not enough to lump everyone together as “Hispanic.” There are big differences among these groups.
Filipinos and Hispanics: Filipinos are more likely to get liver cancer linked to fatty liver disease, just like Hispanics.
Hepatitis B and Asians: Asians and Haitian-born Black men often get liver cancer because of hepatitis B infection.
Different Causes for Different Groups: Liver cancer causes that are on the rise, like fatty liver and alcohol-related issues, are more common in the Hispanic population. Meanwhile, causes that are going down, mainly because of better treatments, are seen more in white and Black folks born in the U.S.
Why Does This Matter?
So, why should you care about all this? Well, understanding how liver cancer works in different groups is super important. It helps us figure out how to prevent it better. For example, we can tell Puerto Ricans to watch out for hepatitis C, Haitians to be cautious about hepatitis B, and Hispanics to be mindful of fatty liver disease.
Taking Action and Raising Awareness
Here’s what we can do with this new knowledge. First, we need to make sure doctors are aware of these differences. They should follow the CDC’s advice and screen everyone for hepatitis C and hepatitis B, even if they don’t have any symptoms. Early detection is a game-changer, and it can lead to treatment that can save lives.
These findings are like a roadmap for us. They help us see where we need to focus our efforts to fight liver cancer better. It’s not the same for everyone, and that’s why we need to tailor our solutions to fit the different needs of our diverse communities.
In the end, even though this study looked at Florida, it’s a lesson for all of us. Liver cancer doesn’t care about borders, and we all need to work together to beat it. By understanding how it affects different groups, we can take steps to make sure everyone has a fair shot at preventing and fighting this tough disease.
Pinheiro, P. S., et al. (2023) Incidence of Etiology-specific Hepatocellular Carcinoma: diverging trends and significant heterogeneity by race and ethnicity. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2023.08.016.