Experts warn of a liver cancer time bomb
Increased diagnosis and treatment of people with hepatitis B is vital to prevent a liver cancer time bomb, experts warn.
A liver cancer prevention policy launched by the Cancer Council on Monday calls for increased testing of groups at risk of hepatitis B, and notes that less than half of Australians affected are aware they carry the disease. About 220,000 Australians are estimated to have chronic hepatitis B and among those most at risk are people of Aboriginal background or born overseas in countries where it is endemic, such as the Asia-Pacific region.
Cancer Council Victoria prevention director Craig Sinclair said liver cancer was our fastest-growing cancer, with cases set to double in Australia over the next decade, to about 2500 a year, unless action was taken.
Mr Sinclair said recent focus groups from the Chinese community showed there was little knowledge of the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, despite most liver cancers being caused by viral hepatitis.
Victorian Infectious Diseases Service physician Ben Cowie said raising awareness among affected communities and healthcare professionals was vital to improve screening and treatment to prevent cancer. He said the prognosis was poor for people whose hepatitis B progressed to liver cancer, with recent Victorian data showing a third of patients died within a month of their cancer diagnosis.
”Currently, only 3 per cent of people living with hepatitis B [in Australia] are on treatment, and nearly half don’t know they’ve got it, so there needs to be a scaling up of treatment,” he said. ”For people with active liver disease from hepatitis B, modern treatments can reduce the risk of developing liver cancer by up to 75 per cent within five years.”