Deadly liver cancer on the rise in Queensland

Incidence rates of the most common type of liver cancer have significantly increased in Queensland since the mid-90s, new data shows.

The QIMR Berghofer and Cancer Council Queensland study* shows incidence rates of hepatocellular carcinoma soared during the 15 years surveyed from 1996 to 2011.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said older men had a higher risk of the cancer, along with Queenslanders living in metro areas in the South-East.

“Areas of the State with a high Indigenous population are also at increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma,” Ms Clift said.

“The study shows survival rates of the liver cancer improved over the period surveyed, but remain very poor.

“Only around 23 per cent of Queenslanders diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma will survive five years – the median survival is only around 10 months.

“Poorer survival was associated with older age, being diagnosed less recently, living in a socioeconomically disadvantaged area and being born in a country with relatively low prevalence of the hepatitis B virus (including Australia).

“While socio-economic disadvantage wasn’t associated with the incidence of this cancer, it was significantly associated with poor survival from the disease.

“Programs to improve the diagnosis and management of liver disease, especially in select socio-demographic at-risk groups in Queensland, are urgently needed.”

Around 290 Queenslanders were diagnosed with liver cancer in 2012 and 211 people died from the disease.

1620 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma were diagnosed during the 16 years surveyed – with annual incidence rates increasing by 3.5 per cent per year for males and 2.6 per cent per year for females.

QIMR Berghofer researcher and Princess Alexandra Hospital hepatologist Dr Paul Clark said recognising liver disease was the critical step in reducing hepatocellular cancer.

“Managing or hopefully curing underlying liver disease is one of the most effective cancer risk reduction strategies,” Dr Clark said.

“Recognising those individuals who are at high risk of liver cancer and require regular surveillance is key to allow early detection and potentially curative treatment for HCC.”

Hepatitis B virus and Hepatitis C virus infections are the leading causes of liver cancer globally.

“Prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of risk conditions such as viral hepatitis is therefore critical,” Ms Clift said.

“Talk to your GP for more information about your risk of liver disease – the key risk for liver cancer.

“Ceasing smoking, avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight remains particularly important if you have liver disease.”

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via 13 11 20 or

For more information or interviews, please contact:

Katie Clift, Executive Manager, Media and Spokesperson, Cancer Council Queensland

Ph: (07) 3634 5372 or 0409 001 171

*Remoteness, race and social disadvantage: Disparities in Hepatocellular Carcinoma Incidence and Survival in Queensland, Australia. Clark et al, 2015.