Social and economic impact of liver cancer

Liver Foundation

4 May 2021

Liver cancer is the fastest growing cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia, costing Australians a staggering $4.8 billion in 2019-20 alone.

Despite harming people and the economy, the disease is relatively unknown and not all liver disease is preventable. It can be caused by genetic and lifestyle factors and impacts on children as well as adults.

A new report commissioned by national peak body, the Liver Foundation, has revealed shocking findings about the social and economic impact of liver cancer on Australians.

The Deloitte Access Economics report found the most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), killed at least 1,070 men and 396 women in 2019-20.

Liver Foundation CEO Richard Wylie said this report should serve as a wake-up call to governments and all Australians.

“Liver disease is a horrific condition that often goes unnoticed until it’s too late, often when it develops into cancer,” Mr Wylie said.

“We know that men are at a much higher risk of liver cancer than women, and this report found that from the age of 45, 32 Australian men in every 100,000 develop liver cancer.

“The rate is still too high in women too, with an average of about 8 women in every 100,000 suffering from this disease.

“Shockingly, just 19 per cent of those diagnosed with any liver cancer survive beyond five years in this country. That’s a devastating reality for too many Australian families.”

The report found liver cancer patients are also severely disadvantaged when it comes to employment.

Sixty-three per cent of people lost their job following diagnosis.

Australians diagnosed with liver cancer are also the least likely of all cancer patients to become re-employed within two years, with just 13.5 per cent regaining employment following their initial job loss.

“Liver cancer is a very real and present danger within our community, but it seems to be the forgotten cancer in this country,” Mr Wylie said.

“That’s why we’re calling on the Australian government to do more to help fight the disease by investing in advocacy, education and research initiatives.”

Mr Wylie encouraged Australians to speak with their doctor if they have concerns about liver cancer.

“Liver cancer, and particularly the hepatocellular carcinoma type, often expresses nonspecific symptoms in the earlier stages,” Mr Wylie said.

“Symptoms may include abdominal pain or discomfort, nausea, jaundice and fluid build-up around the abdomen.

“The bottom line is, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or symptoms. You can never be too careful when it comes to your health.”

Mr Wylie also noted ‘non-alcoholic fatty liver disease’ is an emerging issue in the liver disease space.

“We are seeing rates of obesity and diabetes in Australia accelerating dramatically, and we know that rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will also continue to accelerate in future decades,” he said.

“We don’t know enough about why these factors are so intrinsically linked and that is why research is so important.”

Other insights from the report include:
- 2,599 people were diagnosed with liver cancer in Australia in 2019.
- The health system cost per person of HCC is one of the highest of all cancers. It’s significantly more expensive per person than breast cancer and about the same as bowel cancer.
- In 2019-20, a total of $139.5 million in health system expenditure was attributed to HCC, or $31,775 per person.
- HCC is overrepresented in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people where it is the third most common cause of cancer-related death, compared with seventh in the general Australian population.
- HCC remains the fourth most common cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide.

Download the full report - www.liver.org.au/downloaddeloittereport