Deadly liver cancer rates have been on the rise for years, but liver specialists are finally pinning down why. Two recent Mayo Clinic studies, published in the January issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings uncover factors that are contributing to the rise of hepatocellar carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer, in the United States.
Liver cancer rates have tripled in the U.S. in the last three decades. Survival rates have been improving, but the disease still has only a 10 to 12 percent five-year survival rate when detected in later stages.
W. Ray Kim, M.D., a specialist in Gastroenterology and Hepatology led one of the Mayo Clinic studies. For his research, Dr. Kim analyzed several decades of records in the Rochester Epidemiology Project. The study found the overall incidence of HCC in the population is significantly higher than has been estimated based on National Cancer Institute data. While twenty years ago physicians saw HCC caused by liver-scarring cirrhosis, Dr. Kim’s study also uncovered that HCC is now occurring as a consequence of hepatitis C infection.
Liver scarring can take decades to develop into cancer, and some patients who are suffering don’t even realize that they were infected with hepatitis C a quarter of a century ago.
Also interesting is the connection between obesity and HCC. Eleven percent of cases studied by Dr. Kim were linked to obesity, in particular fatty liver disease. As the obesity epidemic continues to explode across the country, experts anticipate that the rates of liver cancer may dramatically increase with other chronic health conditions experienced by the obese.
Perhaps the most important lesson learned from these recent developments is the importance of early screening. By identifying individuals with certain risk factors, liver disease experts can help catch diseases like hepatitis C and hepatocellar carcinoma in the early, more treatable phases. At the Liver Institute of Virginia, Dr. Mitchell Shiffman encourages this preemptive screening: “The Liver Institute of Virginia has a very aggressive program in liver cancer detection and treatment; we recognize who is at risk for liver cancer and aggressively screen these patients 1-2 times annually.” By identifying liver cancer sooner rather than later, Dr. Shiffman is able to offer patients many treatment options with better outcomes.
About Dr. Mitchell Shiffman
The Liver Institute of Virginia is led by Dr. Mitchell Shiffman. Dr. Shiffman holds a Bachelor of Arts from State University of New York at Buffalo, a Master of Science in physiology from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque, N.M. and his Doctor of Medicine from State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, N.Y. He completed his internship and residency in internal medicine and fellowship training in gastroenterology and hepatology at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond, VA.
Dr. Shiffman is a member of many professional organizations including: the American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, the American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Society of Transplantation, European Association for the Study of the Liver, International Liver Transplantation Society, Richmond Academy of Medicine, Virginia Medical Society and the Virginia Gastrointestinal Society. He was a member of the Board of Trustees with the American College of Gastroenterology from 2003-2009. Dr. Shiffman was recently named one of the Best Doctors in America® in a peer-reviewed survey, which ranks him in the top five percent of specialists in the United States.