Liver cancer is difficult to treat, and lethal if not caught early. But its most common causes, such as hepatitis viruses and obesity, can be prevented.
OUT OF PROPORTION
Not only does liver cancer strike more men than women, it also causes a disproportionate number of cancer-related deaths. Although it is the sixth most common malignancy worldwide, it is second only to lung cancer in terms of mortality1,2.
Liver cancer has several subtypes, but one — hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) — is by far the most common worldwide. In some countries, the proportion of subtypes differs as a result of different risk factors3,4.
Liver-cancer rates vary widely between countries, with the highest rates occurring in Africa and east Asia. The disease is nearly always preceded by chronic liver damage, most commonly caused by hepatitis B. Highlighted below are other common causes in selected countries1,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14.
A SUCCESS STORY
Liver disease takes decades to progress to cancer, which makes prevention research difficult. In Japan, a 30-year gap separated the peak of hepatitis infections (both HBV and HCV) and the resulting rise in liver cancer15. But public-health efforts on multiple fronts are bringing liver-cancer rates back down16.
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Laursen, L. A preventable cancer. Nature 516, S2–S3 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/516S2a
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