A recent edition of the Health Report on ABC Radio with Dr Norman Swan highlighted the conclusion of a recent study conducted in Melbourne.
Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) is already the fifth most frequently diagnosed form of cancer in men around the world, and the seventh in women and statistics out of the US (from the National Cancer Institute) indicate that incidence is increasing in the Americas and Central Europe, by 3.1% per year between 2008 and 2012. Unlike other cancers, where death rates are decreasing, the death rate for liver cancer is increasing, and the study showed an increase of 2.8% per year for men and 3.4% per year for women.
Now the recent research is showing that liver cancer may be being underreported in Australia.
The main source of statistical data on cancer in Australia is the cancer registry, but the St Vincent's study also looked at data from admissions and outpatient information for the seven major hospitals in Melbourne, as well as data from pharmacy, pathology and radiology services. Taking these other sources into account, the study concluded that the incidence of liver cancer is actually double the currently reported rate.
Part of the reason for this potential underreporting is down to how cancer is diagnosed - diagnosis of most other cancers is via biopsy, that is taking a sample of cell tissue and examining it for the presence of cancer cells. Diagnosis of liver cancer on the other hand has been determined by international cancer societies to be confirmed via imaging information and clinical information. Currently only 42% of liver cancers have involved a biopsy, as against more than 90% of all other cancer types.
Although these findings do not impact on diagnosis, that is the report didn't find that people were not being diagnosed correctly, this underreporting will have had an impact on funding for liver cancer treatment and research as opposed to other cancer types.