Liver cancer among Australia's most dangerous critical illnesses

Published 24 Feb 2015

Liver cancer is one of the deadliest critical illnesses in Australia, new analysis from a leading organisation has claimed.

Hepatitis Australia said the disease has the highest death-to-incidence ratio of any cancer in the country, meaning sufferers have a much shorter survival span than average. 

The organisation examined Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures, which showed for every new person diagnosed with liver cancer, an existing patient dies from the illness.

As such, liver cancer has a death-to-incidence ratio of 0.98, while breast and prostate cancers registered lower ratios of 0.2 and 0.16 respectively. Melanoma and bowel cancer scored 0.13 and 0.26, while lung cancer, which can be symptomless for long periods, received 0.77.

According to Hepatitis Australia, almost all forms of cancer have experienced steadily improving survival rates over the last 20 years. However, liver cancer prognosis has remained the same.

Kevin Marriott, the organisation's CEO, said the disease has become the fastest-growing cause of cancer deaths in the country.

"Waiting for a diagnosis of liver cancer is a flawed strategy. A third of Australians with liver cancer die within a month of diagnosis," he explained.

"The current situation is like running water into a bath with no plug. New patients are pouring in at the same rate that lives are being lost. The only change is that the water flow is getting stronger every year."

Critical illness cover

Lump sum benefits are available for cancer sufferers who have critical illness cover as part of their insurance or superannuation policy. The money can be used to pay for specialist medical treatment or to take time off work.

This support can be crucial for families dealing with the emotional and financial strain that can arise when a loved one becomes ill.

However, Mr Marriott has called for more to be done to prevent such diseases from spreading in the first place, including more investment in community awareness programs and early diagnosis initiatives.

Hepatitis B and C are leading causes of lung disease, and Cancer Council NSW Medical Director Associate Professor Monica Robotin said her organisation supports initiatives that tackle viral hepatitis.

"Federal, state and territory governments need to do more to ensure Australians living with hepatitis B or C are treated to prevent more Australians developing liver cancer," she explained.

Figures from Hepatitis Australia predicted the number of liver deaths caused by hepatitis C alone will rocket by 245 per cent within the next 15 years.

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