Figures reveal major rise in liver cancer cases

New figures show a dramatic rise in the number of cases of liver cancer diagnosed in Ireland.

The national Cancer Registry of Ireland says the annual rate stood at around 60 in the mid-1990s.

In 2014, that rose to more than 270.

The incidence rate of the disease has increased significantly since 1994 for males and females with annual average increases of 5% for women and of 6.5% for men.

Mortality rates from liver cancer have increased substantially since the late 1990s when an average of 40 deaths were recorded each year. The figure in 2013 was 306.

According to the NCRI, the mortality rate rose rapidly up to 2006 and has continued to grow at a slower pace since. The NCRI report said the high rates reflected the poor prognosis for liver cancer, with the current estimated five-year survival rate at 17%.

Nevertheless, the NCRI said survival rates had still improved dramatically since the mid-1990s when the rate was less than 5% and Ireland now has one of the best survival rates for patients with the disease in the EU. It is ranked fourth after Germany, Switzerland and France.

A NCRI spokesperson said survival rate was strongly linked to age with 37% for those under 45. Just over 450 cancers of the hepatobiliary system which includes liver, gallbladder and bile ducts were diagnosed between 2012 and 2014. On average, three times as many men as women are diagnosed with cancer each year, though more women are commonly diagnosed with cancer of the gallbladder than men.

About 50% of patients with liver cancer remain untreated with another third receiving chemotherapy with the remainder either undergoing tumour-directed surgery or radiotherapy.

Liver cancer is often inoperable because of the size or number of tumours. The NCRI said liver cancer was linked to alcohol consumption as well as to hepatitis B and C virus infections.

“The increase in alcohol consumption observed in Ireland in recent decades is likely to have had a strong influence on the increase observed in [liver cancer], particularly in men,” said an NCRI spokesperson.

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