The increasing rate of liver cancer and the link to undetected and untreated hepatitis B infection has prompted us to launch a new education project.
Cancer Council Project Officer, Zainab Zaki said while liver cancer was among Australia's fastest growing cancer killers, with hepatitis B related liver cancer a significant contributor, early detection of hepatitis B virus could reduce an individual's risk of developing liver cancer.
"This is a classic cancer story where early intervention can make an enormous difference to the outcome," she said.
The hepatitis B project aims to educate and support General Practitioner's (GP's) to promote hepatitis B screening of ‘at risk' groups.
Dr Eric Khong, a Senior Lecturer at Edith Cowan University and the GP adviser on the project re-iterated the important role of GPs in de-stigmatising hepatitis B related issues and increasing hepatitis B screening of their patients.
"GP's play a crucial role in public health strategies to detect hepatitis B, particularly because of the high rate of undiagnosed hepatitis B in the community," Dr Khong said.
Dr Khong said nearly half of those living with hepatitis B remain undiagnosed and unaware of their infection because they have no symptoms. Only about 1 in 20 people living with hepatitis B is receiving appropriate treatment, so there is enormous work to be done to try and reverse these trends.
"Hepatitis B screening rates in Australia remain low," he said "and if left untreated, we know that hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer or liver failure."
Hepatitis B disproportionately affects those from migrant backgrounds and people who were born in or to parents from high hepatitis B prevalence regions such as Asia, South-Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa.
"In Australia the most common way the disease is spread is from mother to child during childbirth," Said Ms Zaki.
We also know travellers (to high risk regions) and health workers are also at risk."
Ms Zaki said the message was simple.
"Talking about hepatitis B is important. If you or someone you know might be at a higher risk, we encourage talking to a doctor about hepatitis B because a simple blood test could prevent liver cancer down the track."
For more on hepatitis B click here or give our Cancer Care Nurses a call on 13 11 20.