Each year, about 21,000 men and 8,000 women contract liver cancer in the United States, and another 16,000 men and 8,000 women die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For 2017, the American Cancer Society estimates, there will be more than 41,000 combined cases of cancer of the liver and the bile ducts, the tubes that move fluids from the liver to the small intestine.

In the Los Angeles area, liver cancer rates have more than doubled among non-Asians, according to Cancer in Los Angeles County: Trends by Race Ethnicity 1976-2012. The report, recently released by the Los Angeles Cancer Surveillance Program (CSP), a state-mandated database managed by Keck Medicine of USC and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, reviewed a total of more than 1.3 million cancer cases.

The report found that Vietnamese people are the ethnic group with the highest liver cancer rates in the county, which is attributed to the prevalence of hepatitis B in that population. Men have much higher rates of liver cancer than women in all racial/ethnic groups; scientists are not sure why, but are studying the possible role of hormones.

Liver cancer is on the rise among white people primarily because of the prevalence of hepatitis C in baby boomers who used illicit drugs in the 1960s and ’70s, and because of the increasing number of people who are overweight, obese or diabetic, according to V. Wendy Setiawan, PhD, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, a contributor to the report, and an expert in cancer epidemiology.

Coffee may play a preventive role. Dr. Setiawan and other Keck Medicine researchers studied the medical records of nearly 180,000 Americans of varying ethnic backgrounds and found that people who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee each day had a 38 percent drop in the risk for liver cancer, while those who drank four or more cups had a 41 percent decrease.

Prominent Keck Medicine researcher Anthony El-Khoueiry, MD, recommends the following measures to prevent liver cancer:

  • Avoid excessive intake of alcohol
  • Get the hepatitis B vaccination
  • Avoid behavior that increases the risk of hepatitis C, including sharing needles or syringes, having multiple sex partners, and having unsafe sex with infected partners
  • Get FDA-approved treatments for hepatitis C
  • If you have any form of chronic liver disease, have routine surveillance, including liver ultrasound and a blood test for the alpha fetoprotein tumor marker, to catch cancer early