Liver cancer deaths up 80% since 1990, hepatitis B and C mostly to blame: 5 insights

Deaths from liver cancer increased by 80 percent in the last two decades, making liver cancer the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide after lung cancer.

Here are five things to know:

1. In 2016, 830,000 people died as a result of the disease compared to 464,000 people in 1990, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study, the most comprehensive worldwide epidemiological observational study to date.

2. Primary liver cancer is the most prevalent liver cancer worldwide and is usually attributable to long-term hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection. These viruses affect over 325 million people.

3. Two out of every three liver cancer deaths are caused by hepatitis B or C. The Western Pacific and Southeast Asian regions have the most people living with the viruses; the study found that hepatitis B caused 350,000 liver cancer deaths, of which deaths in China and India accounted for 80 percent. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if individuals received the hepatitis B vaccination after birth, but only 52 percent of countries provide the hepatitis B birth dose vaccine to newborns.

4. Hepatitis C was responsible for 160,000 liver cancer deaths in 2016. There is a high rate of hepatitis C infection among baby boomers in the U.S.; 2.6 percent of baby boomers have hepatitis C, six times the rate of other American adults.

5. While effective cures for hepatitis C can halt the progression to liver cancer, only three of the 71 million people living with the virus have accessed these treatments in the last two years.

"What many people don't realize 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."

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