|Date: 25/05/2012 Time: 01:36:00 PM
A national screening programme is needed to tackle
the "ticking time bomb" of liver disease caused by alcohol, obesity and
hepatitis, according to a top doctor here Friday.
Dr Mark Wright, a consultant hepatologist at Southampton General Hospital,
south England, has called for action after the number of deaths rose by a
quarter in less than a decade.
He made his comments after the Hampshire hospital unveiled its new
high-tech ultrasound probe to diagnose liver damage without the need for
invasive biopsies and overnight hospital stays.
The FibroScan, which uses sound waves to assess the degree of tissue
damage, takes around 10 minutes to complete and gives specialists an immediate
overview of a patient's liver health through computerised images.
Dr Wright, who is a spokesman for the British Liver Trust, said in a
statement: "The need for liver disease to be treated as a priority has never
been more evident.
"Deaths have increased by a quarter in less than a decade and we are sat on
a triple ticking timebomb of the consequences of alcohol, obesity and
hepatitis which, if we don't intervene, will send things spiralling completely
out of control.
"With advances in technology, such as the FibroScan, we are in a better
position than ever to tackle this crisis head-on as we can quickly and
accurately assess people early on, without posing any risks to their health or
requiring them to stay in hospital, then give them the support they need to
fend off potential devastating threats to their health."
Liver disease, the fifth biggest cause of death in England and Wales behind
heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease, comes in more than 100
forms but is most commonly associated with alcohol abuse, obesity and viral
Inflammation and fibrosis - scarring - of the liver tissue, which affects
around 10% of the UK population, can cause cirrhosis or liver failure and lead
to cancer if diagnosis is delayed or if left untreated.
Previously, patients were assessed and diagnosed by biopsy using a large
needle pushed through the ribs as either a day case procedure or overnight
stay, which often needed to be repeated for accuracy.
Dr Wright said: "The main advantage we have now is that we can avoid
painful, unpleasant liver biopsies in a large number of patients and, with it,
take away the risks associated with an invasive procedure and the lack of
clarity sometimes found when testing a sample.
"Because it is easier, comfortable, quick and risk-free, more patients are
benefiting from a thorough, targeted assessment of their liver and more could
do in the future as this technology becomes more widely available."
He added: "Now is the time for serious consideration of the introduction of
a national screening programme to allow us to step in early where we can and
make a dent in the rising death rate before we reach a point over the next 20
years where we have lost all grip on control of the disease."