Liver Cancer: Facts & Figures

Incidence in Minnesota:

Liver cancer is increasing in Minnesota

Liver cancer is increasing in Minnesotans and nationwide. Rates have more than doubled in Minnesota and all racial and ethnic groups are experiencing a significant increase in the risk of developing this cancer.

It's difficult to compare Minnesota incidence rates for liver cancer with that of other states before 2012 because the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System (MCSS) only included cancers that were confirmed by examining tissue under a microscope - unlike other state or regional cancer registries. Liver cancer is usually diagnosed solely on clinical evidence (like brain and pancreatic cancers). In Minnesota, it is likely that there was some variation in the likelihood of microscopic confirmation depending on the region of the state, access to good medical care and local medical practices. Beginning in 2012, MCSS started collecting data on cancers that were clinically diagnosed via radiography, CAT scans, or MRIs. The increase in rates in 2012 may be due to this change in data collection. 

From 2011 to 2013, approximately 255 new cases of liver cancer in males and 105 new cases in females were diagnosed in Minnesota residents each year. Survival for liver cancer is very poor because signs and symptoms do not usually appear until the cancer is quite advanced.

Liver cancer in Minnesota

Age-adjusted rate of  new liver cancer cases.
Age-adjusted rate of  new liver cancer cases.

The rate of liver cancer is more than three times higher among males than females. The rate is increasing each year: in the last 10 years, incidence rates increased by about 4.2% per year among males and by about 3.8% per year among females.  Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of liver cancer was 10.1 new cases per 100,000 males and 3.1 new cases per 100,000 females.

Liver cancer in Minnesota, by age

Rate of new liver cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Rate of new liver cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

The rate of liver cancer increases with age, and is two to four times higher among males than females in each age group. The highest incidence rates occur among males aged 75-84 years.

Incidence in Minnesota, by race/ethnicity

Age-adjusted rate of new liver cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Age-adjusted rate of new liver cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

There are large differences in liver cancer incidence between different racial and ethnic groups in Minnesota. From 2004 to 2013, the rate of liver cancer was highest among black people (with about 19.6 new cases per 100,000) and lowest among White, non-Hispanic people (with about 4 new cases per 100,000).

About liver cancer

Liver cancer begins in the cells of the liver or in the intrahepatic bile duct. The liver is just below the right lung, while the intrahepatic bile ducts are tubes within the liver that carry bile to the gallbladder. This does not include cancers that spread to the liver from other parts of the body. The most common form of liver cancer in adults, hepatocellular carcinoma, begins in the cells of the liver. 

What are risk factors for liver cancer?

  • Chronic infection with hepatitis B or C virus is the biggest cause of liver cancer worldwide. In the U.S., hepatitis C is the more common cause of liver cancer. Chronic hepatitis C infection can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption.
  • Diabetes and obesity.
  • Long term exposure to aflatoxins (a fungus that contaminates certain foods) is a major risk factor  in some parts of the world - though not the United States because of federal regulations that keep contaminated products from reaching consumers.
  • Long term exposure to high levels of arsenic through drinking water with high levels of naturally-occurring arsenic (e.g. contaminated private wells).
  • Occupational exposures: Workplace exposure to vinyl chloride (a chemical used in plastic manufacturing) causes a particular type of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). 
  • Race: Liver cancer is two to three times more common among Blacks, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and American Indians than among non-Hispanic whites. 

Take steps to prevent liver cancer.

  • All children should be vaccinated against hepatitis B, as should adults at high risk for exposure to hepatitis B virus (e.g., health care workers).
  • Avoid and treat hepatitis infections, especially hepatitis B and C.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the likelihood of both diabetes and liver cancer.
  • Test your private well water for high arsenic levels. For more information, see Owner's Guide to Wells.
  • Avoid known occupational exposures that increase the risk of liver cancer (e.g. long-term, intense exposure to vinyl chloride).