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BackgroundLiver cancer has one of the fastest rising incidence and mortality rates among all cancers in the UK, but it receives little attention. This study aims to understand the disparities in epidemiology and clinical pathways of primary liver cancer and identify the gaps for early detection and diagnosis of liver cancer in England.MethodsThis study used a dynamic English primary care cohort of 8.52 million individuals aged ≥25 years in the QResearch database during 2008-2018, followed up to June 2021. The crude and age-standardised incidence rates, and the observed survival duration were calculated by sex and three liver cancer subtypes, including hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (CCA), and other specified/unspecified primary liver cancer. Regression models were used to investigate factors associated with an incident diagnosis of liver cancer, emergency presentation, late stage at diagnosis, receiving treatments, and survival duration after diagnosis by subtype.Findings7331 patients were diagnosed with primary liver cancer during follow-up. The age-standardised incidence rates increased over the study period, particularly for HCC in men (increased by 60%). Age, sex, socioeconomic deprivation, ethnicity, and geographical regions were all significantly associated with liver cancer incidence in the English primary care population. People aged ≥80 years were more likely to be diagnosed through emergency presentation and in late stages, less likely to receive treatments and had poorer survival than those aged <60 years. Men had a higher risk of being diagnosed with liver cancer than women, with a hazard ratio (HR) of 3.9 (95% confidence interval 3.6-4.2) for HCC, 1.2 (1.1-1.3) for CCA, and 1.7 (1.5-2.0) for other specified/unspecified liver cancer. Compared with white British, Asians and Black Africans were more likely to be diagnosed with HCC. Patients with higher socioeconomic deprivation were more likely to be diagnosed through the emergency route. Survival rates were poor overall. Patients diagnosed with HCC had better survival rates (14.5% at 10-year survival, 13.1%-16.0%) compared to CCA (4.4%, 3.4%-5.6%) and other specified/unspecified liver cancer (12.5%, 10.1%-15.2%). For 62.7% of patients with missing/unknown stage in liver cancer, their survival outcomes were between those diagnosed in Stages III and IV.InterpretationThis study provides an overview of the current epidemiology and the disparities in clinical pathways of primary liver cancer in England between 2008 and 2018. A complex public health approach is needed to tackle the rapid increase in incidence and the poor survival of liver cancer. Further studies are urgently needed to address the gaps in early detection and diagnosis of liver cancer in England.FundingThe Early Detection of Hepatocellular Liver Cancer (DeLIVER) project is funded by Cancer Research UK (Early Detection Programme Award, grant reference: C30358/A29725).

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Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


DeLIVER consortium