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Liver Cancer is the Leading Cause of Cancer Death Among Mexican American Males in the United States, Researchers Find

Liver cancer – mostly caused by hepatitis C – is one of the most fatal and rapidly-increasing cancers in the United States. Other known causes of liver cancer are hepatitis B, alcohol-related liver disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

“If there are 100 people that are diagnosed with liver cancer, only 17 survive in five years,” said Paulo S. Pinheiro, Ph.D., the lead author of a study published in JHEP Reports, a brand-new hepatology journal sponsored by the prestigious European Association of Liver Disease. The study found that liver cancer is a major cause of death among all U.S. male groups and that it is also the leading cause of cancer death in Mexican American men. The terminology “Mexican American” refers to US-born Mexicans, as opposed to foreign-born Mexicans, regardless of actual nationality.

Dr. Pinheiro, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and his research team focused on cancer patterns for 15 U.S. populations, specifically for those with White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian backgrounds. They also analyzed 29,470 death rates for various groups, especially on people born between 1945 to 1965, for whom the prevalence of Hepatitis C is particularly high. Additionally, researchers also included data on people born before 1945, as well as on those who died within 2012 to 2016 in the states of California, Florida and New York.

When comparing the three states, patterns showed that the total liver cancer death rates for Mexican Americans, Koreans, and Vietnamese male and females were the highest when compared with other races and ethnicities. For Mexican American males, there was a 23 per 100,000 population death rate and for females, there was a 7.3 rate. Korean males showed a rate of 20 and females a rate of 8.4. Vietnamese male and females had the highest death rates, with a rate of 26 for males and 8.2 for females.

“These results highlight differences for liver cancer by race-ethnicity, and the absolute need for more hepatitis C screening in high-risk populations,” said Dr. Pinheiro.

In both the 1945 to 1965 cohort, as well as in the older cohort, Mexican American men had high rates – 11.9 and 10.4 per 100,000. When compared to the older cohort, White, African American, Mexican American and Puerto Rican men had higher death rates in the 1945 to 1965 cohort. Males with Cuban, South American, Mexican Immigrant, Chinese, backgrounds, among others, had higher rates in the older cohorts. Females also had higher rates in the older cohorts.

These results suggest that liver cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for Mexican American men and second for Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese men, as well as for men with other Asian backgrounds. It also showed that it is a less prominent cause of cancer death among women.

“This study can make a difference because we should be more aware of, especially for liver cancer, the differences between the racial ethnicities so that we can tailor more effective preventive measures,” said Dr. Pinheiro. “There could be more effective screening methods, for example, as well as for raising more awareness. Screening is about 10 percent or 15 percent at the moment, which is very low.” 

The study was co-authored by researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences, as well as from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, the University of California at Davis, and Florida A&M University.

Written by Amanda Torres 
Published August 27, 2019