Liver damage, liver cancer spiked over last decade -- with alcohol, unemployment seen as factors: study

Deaths from cirrhosis, a form of liver damage, and liver cancer have dramatically increased in the last decade, according to a study published Wednesday.

Annual deaths from cirrhosis rose 65 percent to 34,174 from 1999 to 2016, while 11,073 people died of liver cancer in 2016, double the number of deaths in 1999, a British Medical Journal study reported.

Researchers speculated that the economic crisis of 2008 and subsequent spike in unemployment could have been factors, the Washington Post reported.

"We suspect that there is a connection between increased alcohol use and unemployment associated with the global financial crisis. But more research is needed," said Dr. Elliot B. Tapper, lead author of the study, according to Science Daily.

"We suspect that there is a connection between increased alcohol use and unemployment associated with the global financial crisis. But more research is needed."

- Dr. Elliot B. Tapper, lead author, study on liver damage

“These are the facts: People started dying at increased rates after 2008,” he said, according to the New York Times. “Young people are more likely to die of alcoholic cirrhosis, and we know that there is a model of despair in young unemployed men who are likely to abuse alcohol.”

Women experienced a consistent increase in deaths from liver cancer, but that percentage in men slowed beginning 2011, according to the study.  

There was an “inflection point” in 2009 when cirrhosis-related deaths increased through 2016, the BMJ reported. There was a 10.9 percent average annual increase -- the highest percentage -- for people ages 25 to 34, “driven entirely” by alcohol-related liver disease.

"Each alcohol-related death means decades of lost life, broken families and lost economic productivity," Tapper said.

"Each alcohol-related death means decades of lost life, broken families and lost economic productivity."

- Dr. Elliot B. Tapper, lead author, study on liver damage

Cirrhosis, the irreversible scarring of the liver, could be caused by alcohol consumption, obesity and hepatitis, the New York Times reported.

The problem is that "We do not yet have a highly effective treatment for alcohol addiction,” Tapper said, according to the Washington Post.

"(M)edical care of those dying from cirrhosis costs billions of dollars," Tapper told the Daily.

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Cirrhosis could also lead to liver cancer and liver failure, the Times reported.

From hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer, the average increase of annual deaths was 2.1 percent, but rose to 3 percent from 2008 to 2016, according to the study.

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Since 2009, Native Americans, White Americans and Hispanic Americans experienced the greatest increase in deaths from cirrhosis, the study said.

Asians and Pacific Islanders’ deaths from liver cancer, on the other hand, declined 2.7 percent annually.

The BMJ study was consistent with a report the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued earlier this week, the Post reported.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the District had the highest liver cancer death rate in the nation, followed by Louisiana, Hawaii, Mississippi and New Mexico, the Post reported, citing the CDC data.

The five states with the lowest liver death rates were Vermont, Maine, Montana, Utah and Nebraska, the report said.

Amy Lieu is a news editor and reporter for Fox News.