Liver Cancer: How Certain Factors Influence Survival Rates

December 11, 2019

Various factors can affect a patient’s survival rate.

Liver cancer is on the rise, up 300% since 1980. However, despite these higher numbers, the incidence of liver cancer has increased at a steady rate of 3 % each year from 2006 to 2015.

An estimated 42,030 people living in the United States received a diagnosis of primary liver cancer in 2019-70% of whom were men. In fact, men are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer than women. The condition is also the fifth most common type of cancer-related death in men, while it is seventh most common type of cancer-related death in women. 

With a 5-year survival rate of 18%, the condition has a rather grim prognosis. However, the earlier one receives a diagnosis, the more favorable the outcomes. Nearly half (44%)  of people who have liver cancer are diagnosed sometime during the early stages of the disease.  Patients who are diagnosed early on can expect a 5-year survival rate of 31%

Various factors can affect a patient’s survival rate. The 5-year survival rate drops to 11% if the cancer has metastasized to the surrounding organs and tissues-regardless of whether the cancer has also spread to the lymph node. The 5-year survival rate plummets to 2% if the cancer has spread beyond neighboring areas of the body.

Chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis secondary to chronic hepatitis C and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, are predisposed to developing a form of primary liver cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Coinfections of hepatitis B and hepatitis C increase the risk of developing liver cancer, as do alcohol and drug abuse.

Environmental factors can also increase a person's risk of developing liver cancer. For example, certain chemicals raise a person’s risk for liver cancer, as does consuming aflatoxin-containing food. Aflatoxin is a mold primarily produced by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Famous for its presence on peanuts, aflatoxins can be found on the surfaces of other nuts, as well as figs, grains such as corn, and cereal.

Race and ethnicity play a role, as individuals of Pacific Island or Asian American descent have the highest rates of liver cancer than any other group. The next highest rates are found in the Latino community, followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives, African Americans, and whites, respectively. Gender also affects the risk for liver cancer, and risk levels for certain types of liver cancers vary between the genders and the kind of liver cancer that present. Men are 3 times more likely to develop liver cancer than women and are much more likely to have HCC than women. However, 1 subtype of HCC, called fibrolamellar subtype, is more common in women.