Beaumont Hospital, Trenton, is the first Downriver hospital to offer a new form of testing for liver damage. Fibroscan improves the patient’s experience, lessens the pain associated with a surgical biopsy and gives more accurate information about liver health.
People in Downriver communities are now able to access this new technology at their local hospital, and residents of northern Ohio can access it by coming north on I-75. Fibroscan, a noninvasive test, gauges thickening or scarring of liver tissues. In many cases, it can replace biopsy and eliminate the need for imaging tests.
Traditionally, a gastroenterologist ordered an imaging test to check for liver damage — a CT scan, MRI or ultrasound. If damage were found, a liver tissue sample would have been removed through a biopsy and sent to the lab for analysis. For some patients, the pain from this biopsy can be intense. A biopsy also carries risk, such as internal bleeding, a leak of bile from the liver or gallbladder or a collapsed lung.
Fibroscan works by emitting a small pulse of energy. It calculates the speed of this energy and gives the gastroenterologist an immediate measure of the liver’s stiffness. The more damaged or stiff the liver, the more rapidly the waves will pass through it. A higher numerical reading indicates more liver damage.
A person lies back with the right arm raised behind the head. A water-based gel is applied to the skin before the probe is placed on the right rib cage. Ten quick measurements are taken.
“Dr. Whitmer is our Fibroscan champion and has been eager to offer this advanced diagnostic test at the Beaumont Imaging Center, Trenton, which is an outpatient facility associated with the hospital,” said Lisa Landry, director of Imaging and Cardiology.
“My office is in Riverview, so my patients mostly live Downriver. They like having access to Fibroscan only a few minutes away,” said Whitmer. “For them, this saves hours of driving time to other health care facilities that have this rapid, painless and much less costly alternative to surgical biopsy.”
“Following a baseline Fibroscan for a patient with liver disease, I recommend a retest every one to two years,” said Whitmer. “A significant increase in liver stiffness would prompt a re-evaluation of the patient for cirrhosis. Having this tool brings me extra confidence in caring for my patients.”
For ages 45-54, liver disease is now the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Twenty percent of Americans have fatty livers, the basis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Four million Americans have hepatitis C. Every year, about 21,000 people are diagnosed with primary liver cancer — one of the few cancers on the rise in the U.S.
“I’m seeing a startling number of people with liver diseases,” said Whitmer. “While obesity and hepatitis C are huge culprits, many different forms of liver disease can affect adults and children. It can be genetic or caused by viruses, alcohol use or obesity. Over time, liver damage results in scarring and then cirrhosis. This can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition.”
Most insurance plans cover the Fibroscan examination. Fibroscan is also available at the Liver Center at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.