Lack of donor organs and poor access to treatment mean mortality rates for liver disease destined to rise

TORONTO, Feb. 16, 2012 /CNW/ - When you ignore a health issue, it only tends to get worse. Liver disease has been lurking in the dark gaining strength while individuals and governments devote their attention elsewhere. Reports from Statistics Canada and most recently the Canadian Institutes for Health Information (CIHI) however are revealing glimpses of what the future may hold for liver disease patients if action is not taken soon. With rising liver cancer rates and shortages of donor organs, that future looks bleak.

"The most common forms of liver disease - hepatitis B and C, liver cancer and fatty liver disease - are chronic conditions that move slowly and may have few symptoms," says Dr. Morris Sherman, Canadian Liver Foundation Chairman and practicing hepatologist. "In some cases these diseases may not be discovered until they reach an advanced stage when a transplant is the only option. What is more disturbing however is when diseases like hepatitis B or C are diagnosed at an early stage, patients cannot access the treatment they need to avoid the need for a transplant."

According to the CIHI report on organ transplantation released this week, hepatitis C remains the leading cause of liver transplants in Canada, followed by cholestatic liver disease. Liver cancer has taken over the number 3 spot from alcoholic cirrhosis - an indication that lack of diagnosis and intervention is allowing other forms of liver disease such as hepatitis B to progress to liver cancer.

"When the country is facing a chronic shortage of donor organs, we should be looking at ways to reduce the numbers of people who need them," says Dr. Sherman. "Livers are the second most frequently transplanted organ and in 2010 74 people died on the waiting list. This is almost as many as died waiting for kidneys despite the fact that there are six times as many people waiting for kidneys. Patients with failing livers do not have an option for dialysis."

The Canadian Liver Foundation believes that improving organ donor rates is only part of the solution for liver disease patients. "We have the means to significantly reduce the demand for liver transplants," says Dr. Sherman. "We have treatments for hepatitis B that can effectively control, and in some cases cure, hepatitis B before it turns into liver cancer but in many provinces, these treatments are not accessible to patients. In the case of hepatitis C, many people are still not diagnosed. For those that are, new treatment options are available but once again it comes down to accessibility. If governments do not cover the costs of these drugs, only patients with the financial means or independent coverage will be able to afford them."

The CIHI report is further evidence that now is the time to address liver disease in Canada. "There are an estimated 600,000 Canadians living with chronic hepatitis B or C. If there are not enough donor organs now, we should be doing everything we can to keep these people off the transplant list in the future. We hope that these statistics will motivate governments to implement policies regarding screening and treatment that will not only benefit patients but help reduce the demand for liver transplants."

For more information on hepatitis or the Canadian Liver Foundation's positions on liver-related issues, visit www.liver.ca

SOURCE Canadian Liver Foundation

For further information:

Melanie Kearns
Canadian Liver Foundation
416-491-3353 ext. 4923
mkearns@liver.ca

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Canadian Liver Foundation

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