Urgent action needed as viral hepatitis deaths overtake HIV/AIDS

Monday 28 April, 2014

 

New data presented at The International Liver Congress in London this month reveals that more Australians are dying from viral hepatitis than HIV/AIDS.

Cancer Council Victoria is calling on governments to invest more in the diagnosis and testing of chronic hepatitis, which is the major cause of liver cancer.

Chris Enright, Manager of Priority Populations at Cancer Council Victoria, says chronic hepatitis B accounts for up to 80% of liver cancers. Appropriate treatment for chronic hepatitis B is vital for preventing related liver cancer but only 20% of those who require treatment for hepatitis B are receiving it.

She says recent funding commitments from the state and federal governments to improve access to testing and treatment for people from priority populations are a step in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go.

"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," she said.

"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.

"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."

The figures presented in London were based on an analysis of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study conducted by Dr Benjamin Cowie and Ms Jennifer MacLachlan from the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health.

Cancer Council Australia launched its first ever liver cancer prevention policy last year, 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 are set to double over next decade
  • Liver cancer has jumped 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 – 85–90% don't survive beyond five years after diagnosis