November 18, 2003
HOUSTON, TX - The number of persons newly diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) is rapidly increasing in the United States according to a study published in the November 18 Annals of Internal Medicine. The rates of liver cancer have doubled over the past two decades, and the largest increase has been observed during the 1990s.
The increase has been observed in men and women and in most racial and ethnic groups. Disturbingly, the study shows an increase in liver cancer among Caucasian men between the ages of 45 and 65, who are not conventionally thought of as high-risk groups. "This is an alarming increase in a highly lethal cancer," said lead investigator, Hashem El-Serag, MD, MPH, a health services researcher at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
The study, which was designed to update the recent trends in liver cancer incidence, used data collected from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and represents approximately ten percent of the U.S. population. Therefore, the results are likely to be generalizable to the entire U.S. population.
The investigators determined that the increasing incidence of liver cancer was unlikely to have simply resulted from changes in the demographic features of the population, such as age, gender, and race. However, the study suggests that hepatitis C virus, acquired in the 1960s and 1970s, may be responsible for the increase in liver cancer.
"We think that hepatitis C virus infections, acquired two to three decades earlier, are partially responsible for this increase in liver cancer," said El-Serag, "and if this is true, then unfortunately, we expect the cases of liver cancer to continue to increase over the next few years."
El-Serag concluded that "these observations should lead to further studies on the risk factors, screening, and management of liver cancer in the United States, as there is a dearth of good data to guide us in this important area of research."
This research is based upon work supported by the Health Services Research and Development Service, Office of Research and Development, Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. El-Serag is a VA HSR&D Career Development Awardee (RCD 00-013-2), and is a senior scientist at the Houston Center for Quality of Care & Utilization Studies, a Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence and an assistant professor of medicine in the department of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
Collaborating with Dr. El-Serag on the study were: Jessica Davila, PhD and Nancy Petersen, PhD in Houston; and Katherine McGlynn, PhD with the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Department of Health and Human Services.
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