May 6th, 2010
12:15 PM ET

Liver cancer on the rise, CDC says

By Jennifer Bixler
CNN Medical Executive Producer

A new study out Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control finds the most common form of liver cancer is on the rise.

According to the May 5th Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, rates of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in the United States increased from 2.7 cases per 100,000 people in 2001 to 3.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2006. The report also points out that untreated hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections are responsible for about 78 percent of global HCC cases.

Liver cancer is much more common in developing countries than in the United States. Worldwide, it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths. In the U.S., it's the eighth leading cause. So why the increase of liver cancer cases in the United States?

One reason may be the legacy of the Vietnam War. "Many veterans contracted it through exposure to blood and body fluids," says Dr Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society and CNN.com Health contributor. Hepatitis and liver cancer are much more common in Southeast Asia than in other parts of the world. Brawley says it's unclear why.

So what can be done to turn the trend around? The challenge, says Brawley and others, is to get people at risk for hepatitis educated and vaccinated. In the United States, there's been a vaccine for hepatitis B since the 1980s (Researchers are still working on a vaccine for hepatitis C).

Since the 1990s, babies born in the U.S. have been vaccinated against hepatitis B. "This is an overwhelmingly preventable disease," says Brawley.

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