A descriptive study of racial inequalities in mortality from hepatocellular cancer before and after licensure of lifesaving drugs for hepatitis C virus in the United States

Elsevier, EClinicalMedicine, Volume 22, May 2020
Levine R.S., Mejia M.C., Salemi J.L., Gonzalez S.J., Aliyu M.H., Husaini B.A. et al.
Background: Since 1979, mortality from hepatocellular cancer (HCC) has doubled in the United States (US). Lifesaving drugs, prohibitively expensive for some, were approved and marketed to treat hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major risk factor for HCC, beginning in 1997. After the prior introduction of other lifesaving innovations, including active retroviral drug therapy for human immunodeficiency virus and surfactant for respiratory distress syndrome of the newborn, racial inequalities in their mortalities increased in the US. In this descriptive study, we explored racial inequalities in mortality from HCC before and after licensure of HCV drugs in the US. Methods: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wide-ranging ONline Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) were used to describe HCC mortality rates from 1979 to 2016 in those 55 years of age and older, because they suffer the largest disease burden. Joinpoint regression was used to analyze trends. To estimate excess deaths, we applied White age-sex-specific rates to corresponding Black populations. Findings: From 1979 to 1998, racial inequalities in mortality from HCC in the US were declining but from 1998 to 2016 racial inequalities steadily increased. From 1998 to 2016, of the 16,770 deaths from HCC among Blacks, the excess relative to Whites increased from 27.8% to 45.4%, and the trends were more prominent in men. Concurrently, racial inequalities in mortality decreased for major risk factors for HCC, including alcohol, obesity and diabetes. Interpretation: These descriptive data, useful to formulate but not test hypotheses, demonstrate decreasing racial inequalities in mortality from HCC which were followed by increases after introduction of lifesaving drugs for HCV in the US. Among many plausible hypotheses generated are social side effects, including unequal accessibility, acceptability and/or utilization. Analytic epidemiological studies designed a priori to do so are necessary to test these and other hypotheses.