HCC, hepatocellular carcinoma, is the most common type of liver cancer seen in patients in the United States, but when it comes to Hispanics–particularly Mexican Americans in Texas–this form of cancer is on the verge of becoming epidemic.
The number of HCC cases in the Hispanic population in Texas increased 90 percent from 1993 to 2007, with Hispanic males twice as likely to develop this type of cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanic women three times more likely to develop HCC compared to their non-Hispanic white counterparts, according to Dr. Howard Monsour, a hepatologist with Houston Methodist Hospital,
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“Texas has one of the highest mortality rates for liver cancer in the United States,” said Monsour in a press release.
“We have one of the highest populations with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, and we are in the top three or four in cases of hepatitis C. Its hitting the Mexican American community very hard, especially in south Texas.”
The prevalence of hepatitis C is considered the primary reason HCC is increasing among the Texas Hispanic population, according to researchers, though obesity, lipid disorders and diabetes increase the number of people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which also significantly impacts HCC risk.
“If you have fatty liver disease you are more than four times as likely to get this type of liver cancer,” Monsour said.
“We are also seeing hepatitis C starting to show up in people at an advanced stage of the disease that contracted the disease 25 to 30 years ago and this is a big concern.”
Providence Health & Services indicates that hepatitis C, a virus that causes inflammation and scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver, is not just a primary cause of HCC among Hispanics; it is also a primary cause of HCC among all populations.
This is largely due to the fact that hepatitis C was generally unknown during the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, and many people were exposed to the virus through blood transfusions and recreational drug use.
Hepatitis C is also classified as a slow-moving virus, and cirrhosis can take 30 or 40 years to develop in the liver. It is this scarring that ultimately increases the risk for HCC.
“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Monsour said. “Our goals are to raise the awareness of Texas physicians and the high risk groups to enhance early detection that we hope will lead to a cure or at least a liver transplant before its too late.”
Monsour is working alongside the Texas Medical Association to create a task force intended to promote early detection of HCC.
Thus far eight objectives have been identified for the people of the state; however, more focus must be placed on the Hispanic population, with outreach programs designed to educate this growing population.
Liver cancer is considered highly treatable if caught early, another reason why outreach programs are essential to managing the prevalence of disease within all populations.
Many individuals don’t realize that just by being overweight they are putting themselves at risk for HCC.