- Incidence and mortality rates for liver cancer are substantially higher among Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites. Reasons for the disparities include barriers to proper health care, including lack of access to prompt, quality health care
- Talking to a medical professional can help you further understand your level of risk, and what steps you can take to reduce risk.
- The Liver Cancer Center at Dana-Farber is leading the world’s largest prevention study of hepatocellular cancer, a form of liver cancer. The study is tracking thousands of patients around the world who have an increased risk of liver cancer.
Hispanic Americans are substantially more likely to develop liver cancer than non-Hispanic whites are. The disparities are more pronounced among women than men: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanic women had more than twice the rate of liver cancer incidence than white women between 2011 and 2015, the most recent period for which statistics are available. For Hispanic men, the incidence rate was nearly double that of white men.
After many years of rising liver cancer incidence among Hispanics, there is evidence that the increase is tapering off for Hispanic men. Between 2006 and 2015, rates were stable in Hispanic men but rose annually by 2.8% in Hispanic women. Over the same period, incidence rates increased even more among non-Hispanic whites, going up 3% and 4% for men and women, respectively.
In examining liver cancer rates, it’s important to bear in mind that the Hispanic population in the United States is highly diverse, representing a variety of cultures, nations of origin, and family heritages. Statistics for Hispanics as a group may therefore obscure differences among subpopulations. For example, studies have shown that among Hispanic men in the continental United States and Hawaii, liver cancer occurs at nearly double the rate in those born in the U.S. than in those born elsewhere. Other studies have shown that Puerto Rican Hispanic men living on the U.S. mainland have a higher incidence of the disease than those living in Puerto Rico itself.
Work at Dana-Farber and elsewhere aims to help reduce these disparities by establishing the best ways to screen patients and, if diagnosed, the most effective treatment.
What factors contribute to these disparities?
People with chronic infection by the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and/or the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have a significantly higher risk of developing liver cancer. The viruses can spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid from an infected person enters the body of a non-infected individual.
Research suggests that Hispanics with chronic HCV infection may be more susceptible to cirrhosis, scarring of the liver that can lead to cancer.
A variety of additional obstacles can hinder Hispanic individuals’ ability to receive prompt, quality health care. The National Behavioral Health Network cites these barriers:
- Lack of access to culturally appropriate health services, including health care professionals who speak Spanish;
- Lack of health insurance;
- Lower socioeconomic status than non-Hispanic whites; and
- Underutilization of health care services, such as preventative health screenings for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers.
Due to these and other factors, cancer often is diagnosed in Hispanic patients at an advanced stage, when it is harder to treat.
Among Americans of all races and ethnicities, factors such as heavy alcohol use, tobacco smoking, and certain metabolic disorders collectively raise the risk of liver cancer more than chronic infection with HBV or HCV does, according to the American Cancer Society.
What can people do to reduce their risk of liver cancer?
Vaccines are available to prevent HBV infection. For people infected with HBV or HCV, treatment may reduce the chance of liver cancer development.
People who smoke or drink too much alcohol can lower risk of liver cancer — and a variety of other diseases — by adopting a healthier lifestyle. Click here for tips on quitting smoking and here for ways to cut down on alcohol consumption.
Talking to a medical professional can help you further understand your level of risk, and what steps you can take to reduce risk.
Dana-Farber research in liver cancer
The Liver Cancer Center at Dana-Farber is leading the world’s largest prevention study of hepatocellular cancer, a form of liver cancer. The study is tracking thousands of patients around the world who have an increased risk of liver cancer. The research will help scientists understand who is most at risk and which risk factors have the greatest effect on the development and prognosis of the disease. It will also help establish the best ways to screen patients and, if diagnosed, the most effective treatment.
Dana-Farber is also leading and participating in a variety of clinical trials of potential therapies for liver cancer. These include a phase II trial of the immunotherapy drugs durvalumab and tremelimumab and radiation therapy in patients with liver or biliary tract cancer that cannot be surgically removed.
The Center for Cancer Equity and Engagement at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center provides easy access to data for cancer scientists studying the causes of disparities in cancer incidence in Massachusetts and exploring ways to address them.