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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

A Snapshot of Liver and Bile Duct Cancers

Incidence and Mortality

Primary liver and bile duct cancers are the fifth most common cause of cancer death in men and the ninth most common cause of cancer death in women. Over the past two decades, incidence rates for these cancers have increased in people of all races and in both sexes; mortality rates have increased in all groups except Asians/Pacific Islanders. Men are more than twice as likely as women to develop and die from liver and bile duct cancers. African Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives are more likely to develop these cancers than whites. This much higher risk for Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders is in contrast to most other types of cancer, for which their risks are lower than those in whites.

Liver cancer is associated closely with hepatitis virus infections, especially hepatitis B. Almost all cases of liver cancer in the United States occur in people with alcohol-related cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis B or C infection. Obesity and diabetes are also associated with increased liver cancer risk. Vaccinating for hepatitis B provides long-term protection from hepatitis B infection and has been shown to lower the risk of liver cancer in children, although it is not yet known whether it lowers the risk in adults. There is no standard or routine screening test for liver cancer. Standard treatments for liver cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, percutaneous ethanol injection, and targeted therapy. New treatments currently being tested include hyperthermia therapy and biological therapy.

Line graphs showing U.S. Liver and Bile Duct Cancers incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and ethnicity, between 1990-2010. In 2010, incidence was highest in American Indians/Alaska Natives followed by Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, African Americans, and whites. In 2010, mortality was highest in American Indians/Alaska Natives followed by Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, African Americans, and whites.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Liver and Bile Duct Cancers

Selected Advances in Liver and Bile Duct Cancers Research

Pie chart of NCI Liver Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 24%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 20%.  Prevention, 7%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 15%.  Treatment, 24%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 4%.  Scientific model systems, 6%.
  • An analysis of two observational studies found an association between higher vitamin E intake from food or supplements and a lower risk of liver cancer. Published July 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Researchers demonstrated that the loss of a liver-specific microRNA triggered tumor development in mice and that treating animals with this microRNA slowed tumor growth in a liver cancer mouse model. Published July 2012. [PubMed Abstract]
  • A study in mice showed that treatment with a drug that inhibits iNOS (an enzyme that helps produce nitric oxide) reduced the formation of liver tumors associated with a common genetic deletion. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Scientists developed a diagnostic test to assist in identifying those patients with liver cancer who are likely to benefit from adjuvant interferon-alpha therapy. Published March 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to liver cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Liver and Bile Duct Cancers Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment1 in liver and bile duct cancers research decreased from $75.1 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $64.7 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $12.2 million in liver and bile duct cancers research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Bar graph of NCI Liver and Bile Duct Cancers Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal year (FY) 2008, $75.1 million Liver and Bile Duct Cancers Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2009, $71.1 million of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $72.6 million of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2011, $66.3 million of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget.  FY 2012, $64.7 million of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for for Liver and Bile Duct Cancers


  • 1 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.

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