Increasing Incidence of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in the U.S.

A recent study (DL White et al. Gastroenterol 2017; 152: 812-20) provide data showing a striking increase in the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Using data from the US Cancer Statistics Registry which covers 97% of U.S. population, the authors found the following:

  • HCC incidence rose from 4.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 6.7 per 100,000 in 2012
  • The annual rate of increase was 4.5% from 2000-2009, but then 0.7% annually from 2010-2012
  • The greatest increase occurred in 55-59 year olds (8.9% annually) and 60-64 year olds (6.4% annually)

The main HCC risk factors are HCV, HBV, and alcoholic liver disease, though obesity-associated HCC is emerging as an important risk factor as well.  The highest rates of HCC are seen in southern and western states, with Texas having the highest rates overall.  The high rate in Texas is in part due to the higher rates of HCC in Hispanics.

Overall, the authors indicate that the rising HCC rates are most closely tied to the peak HCV cohort (1945-65) and speculate that the arrival of direct-acting antivirals may help. At the same time, this HCV cohort is composed “disproportionately [of] minorities and of lower socioeconomic status” and may have less access to these advances in treatment.  Furthermore, in states like Texas which did not adopt Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act, there are more uninsured patients who will be less likely to identify preceding risk factors for HCC.

My take: Perhaps in 20 years, we will see HCC incidence maps that are improving as HCV treatments become more widely available.  This presumes that other HCC risk factors, including obesity and alcohol, do not worsen significantly.

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