Mortality for all cancers combined has gone down for US adults—but between 2000 and 2016, death rates from liver cancer went up 43%, according to a new CDC report. The cancer itself isn't getting any deadlier—the increase in mortality rates is due to more people developing the disease, CNN reports. Liver cancer is caused by underlying liver disease more than 70% of the time, and factors including obesity, smoking, and excessive drinking increase one's risk for liver disease. So do hepatitis B and C infections, and one cancer researcher believes the prevalence of hepatitis C in the baby boomer community, as well as a rise in excess body weight, is behind the increase in people dying from liver cancer.
As the author of the report explains, blood transfusions and organ transplants were not screened for hepatitis C until 1992, and it often takes years for someone infected with hepatitis C to develop liver cancer. So it makes sense that older people who got blood transfusions or an organ transplant prior to 1992 are now experiencing more cases of liver cancer; mortality was greatest in those 75 or older. But the opioid epidemic could also be contributing, according to one oncologist, since hepatitis C can be spread by sharing needles. Liver cancer is now the sixth-leading cause of cancer death, up from the ninth, LiveScience reports. (Read more liver cancer stories.)