$5.6 million hep B funding will help to stem fastest growing cancer

Monday 12 August, 2013

Cancer Council Victoria welcomes funding for life-saving hepatitis B identification and treatment

Cancer Council Victoria has welcomed an announcement today by Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek to commit $5.6 million to identifying and treating hepatitis B.

Craig Sinclair, Director of Prevention at Cancer Council Victoria, said the funding would save thousands of lives by diagnosing and treating those living with chronic hepatitis B, which accounts for up to 80% of liver cancers.

"Liver cancer is now the fastest growing cancer in terms of mortality here in Australia, jumping three places in three years to become Australia's ninth most deadly cancer.

"Almost half the people (44%) living with chronic hepatitis B aren't aware of it, and a lack of symptoms often means liver cancer is diagnosed late," he said.

Mr Sinclair said most at-risk were those born overseas in countries where hepatitis B infection is endemic, such as the Asia Pacific region, and their children, as the major cause of transmission is from mother to infant during birth. People of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background are also at greater risk.

Currently only 20% of those with hepatitis B who require treatment receive it, yet treatment and management could effectively prevent the development of liver cancer.

"Investing in programs to help identify individuals at risk of hepatitis B is an extremely effective way to decrease the number of those dying from the disease. With diagnosis and treatment, 75% of liver cases could be prevented in four to five years."

In July this year Cancer Council Australia launched its first ever liver cancer prevention policy, urging state and federal governments to provide funding for the National Hepatitis B Strategy to reduce the incidence of liver cancer through prevention, early diagnosis and treatment.

Hepatitis and liver cancer - a summary

  • Deaths from liver cancer set to double over next decade
  • Liver cancer jumps three spots in three years to become Australia's ninth most fatal cancer – around 1,400 Australians die from liver cancer each year
  • There are an estimated 218,000 people living in Australia with chronic hepatitis B
  • Almost half of people with hepatitis B aren't aware they have it
  • Only 20% of those with hepatitis B who require treatment currently receive it
  • Only 10% of liver cancer cases are linked to heavy alcohol use
  • Liver cancer is one of the most deadly – 85% to 90% don't survive beyond five years after diagnosis.