A new scanner which gives patients at Bradford Royal Infirmary instant pictures of their liver damage could save lives by giving people a shock incentive to make healthy changes.
The Fibroscan liver machine cost £85,000 and is being used by Bradford Teaching Hospitals to enable patients to get a quick diagnosis and avoid invasive and potentially painful biopsies – as well as a day ward stay.
The scanner works by placing a probe on the patient’s skin which uses ultrasound waves to help doctors measure liver stiffness, a marker of liver disease.
Consultant hepatologist Dr Sulleman Moreea, a committee member of the liver section of the British Society of Gastroenterologists, said getting a quicker diagnosis was good news for liver patients and those suspected of having damage as previously biopsies had been the standard way of assessing liver tissue.
He said most liver damage cases in Bradford are caused by excessive alcohol consumption but those now linked to obesity and hepatitis B and C were also on the rise.
“Diagnosing liver disease and damage as early as possible is paramount in giving patients the best chances of recovery,” Dr Moreea said.
“Patients can instantly see pictures of the liver and the figures generated by the machine. This can be the incentive they need to change their lifestyles to improve their liver health.”
While all other causes of death are falling, the number of people dying from liver disease is rising.
Dr Moreea said: “A biopsy is time-consuming as patients have to spend the day in hospital having blood tests, and it needs to be carried out by an expert radiologist after the skin is injected with local anaesthetic, carrying a risk of discomfort and a smaller risk of internal bleeding.
“However, the Fibroscan is a completely painless and non-invasive procedure which can be completed in 15 minutes in our outpatient department.”
Although the machine will not replace a liver biopsy in all situations, about 20 per cent of Bradford patients should no longer need one and that will increase in time. It also means any damage found can be more easily monitored.
There are three Fibroscan machines in West Yorkshire but Bradford has beome the first to also use it to measure fat content in the liver.