One-quarter of the global population is estimated to have a liver disease called Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a condition where the liver consists of 5 per cent or more fat. Untreated, this disease can lead to the more severe Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis which can result in cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver transplant. These liver diseases may become life-threatening without any noticeable symptoms, which is why screening is vital.
For people who are at high risks, such as those living with obesity, pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor about your liver health and get screened as early as possible.
In the past, the best way to diagnose liver disease was by performing a liver biopsy, a procedure where a small piece of the liver is removed using a long needle and then analyzed in a lab. Liver biopsies can be painful, risky, expensive, and unreliable. Complications can include bleeding, infection, accidental injury to a nearby organ, and even death.
A typical liver biopsy can cost more than $7,000. Additionally, a biopsy relies on using a tiny fraction of the liver, which means more than 30 per cent of liver biopsy diagnoses may be wrong. Fortunately, there are now alternatives to biopsy.
It is important for all healthcare providers and patients to understand that liver biopsy is not the only diagnostic option available. Some examples of non-invasive diagnostics include blood tests, ultrasound, and various different scans. Non-invasive diagnostics lead to fewer patient visits, quicker diagnosis, and are more cost-effective without the risks of surgery. Imaging tests can provide you and your doctor with a full picture of the liver, rather than just a small sample. If your doctor recommends a biopsy to screen for early liver disease, ask for non-invasive alternatives such as blood tests and imaging.