Liver Cancer is on the Rise, but Doesn’t Need to Be
Data from 2015 released by the American Cancer Society shows that mortality from all cancers has declined by 26% since 1991, EXCEPT for liver cancer, which continues to “increase rapidly”.
For individuals aged 60 to 69 years, the incidence of liver cancer increased by 8% each year between 2010 and 2014 and by 3% for those 70 years of age and older. Survival rates for someone with liver cancer is 18% at five years, one of the worse rates of all cancers.
Why such a big increase? Most likely it’s because of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Approximately 75% of the U.S. residents with hepatitis C are baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1965. Undetected virus, or late diagnosis, can lead to liver cancer. However, testing and antiviral treatment may act as a preventive measure against liver cancer.
Examples of steps state governments have taken to prevent liver cancer:
- Encourage all baby boomers to get tested for the hepatitis C virus. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) gave this test a grade “B” for baby boomers, meaning it has no cost to the patient and all providers will be reimbursed, regardless of insurance carrier.
- Encourage hospitals and providers to add the baby boomer electronic medical record prompt which will make it a seamless component of an annual exam. Large and small hospitals and providers are now maintaining patients’ records through computer storage systems. Those systems allow for immediate access to many years of test results and other data. When a health record is opened, there are reminders or “prompts” that guide a physician as to standard tests that should be done for a person of that gender or age group. For example, alerts have increased screening rates five-fold when implemented through University of Michigan clinics.
- Reduce barriers to treatment access, especially among under-served citizens. Treatments are 99% effective and cost less than $16,000, a significant drop from the $1,000 a pill cost in 2013. Treatment is now a cure and will reduce the downstream costs of other health issues that are affected by the hepatitis C virus.
The most effective way to reduce liver cancer is to test for HCV and then provide treatment, now referred to as a cure. Call the Liver Health Connection HelpLine, 800-522-4372 to talk about options for your state, or to refer a patient for linkage to care. We have ideas and suggestions for any budget.
The author Nancy Steinfurth, MPA, has become a fearless patient advocate in her nearly eleven years as the Executive Director of Liver Health Connection. Her accomplishments have included saving state funds for the viral hepatitis program at the State Health Department, advocating the State Legislature and Colorado Medicaid to reduce its restrictions for accessing hepatitis C treatment. Under her leadership, the organization has significantly increased hepatitis C testing from a few hundred in 2007 to over 2,000 in 2017, now provides full-service patient navigation, and is partnering with substance abuse treatment providers to offer on-site education and testing.