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Joe Frazier and liver cancer

Joe Frazier died Monday of liver cancer, which is one of the ailments for which pharmaceutical companies worked for years to find treatments.

As Don Steinberg wrote in Tuesday's Inquirer, boxer Joe Frazier used to punch sides of beef in Philadelphia slaughterhouses before any of the 37 Rocky movies.

The former heavyweight boxing champion died Monday of liver cancer. Don's story is here.

Liver cancer is one of the reasons that folks at Merck, Vertex and other pharmaceutical companies have worked for years on drugs to better treat hepatitis C, the version that had resisted drug treatments longest. Merck and Vertex had heptatits C drugs approved in 2011.

We don't pretend to know if there was a discernible cause of Frazier's liver cancer. He spent his last weeks in hospice care in Center City.

The American Liver Foundation says that about 21,000 Americans are diagnosed with primary liver cancer each year. Cancer that starts in the liver is called primary liver cancer. Cancer that spreads to the liver from another organ is called metastatic liver cancer.

The ALF also says primary liver cancer is one of the few cancers on the rise in the United States. Primary liver cancer is about twice as common in men than in women.

The foundation lists several risk factors for liver cancer:

  1. Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) can lead to liver cancer. In the United States, chronic alcoholism and hepatitis C are the leading causes of cirrhosis.

  2. Long-term hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection are linked to liver cancer because they often lead to cirrhosis. Hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer without cirrhosis.

  3. Obesity may increase the risk of liver cancer.

  4. Diabetes can increase the risk of liver cancer, especially in those who drink heavily or have viral hepatitis.

The American Liver Foundation website is here.