Surgical Equipment

Will Ultrasound Tests Performed with FibroScan Replace Traditional Liver Biopsies Performed with Surgical Equipment?

Liver biopsy has long been considered the “gold-standard” procedure for diagnosing all types of chronic liver diseases. In this method, surgeons use surgical equipment to manually obtain liver tissue samples for diagnosis. The surgeons then perform a histological evaluation of the liver to precisely determine the stage and extent of liver disease. The results of these tests are then compared to age-old liver biopsy scoring systems like the METAVIR system. In other words, the use of surgical equipment in diagnosing liver conditions has been a codified practice for several decades. But now, it has a competitor in the form of FibroScan. 

FibroScan is a non-invasive diagnostic device used to evaluate the amount of scarring and fatty content in a patient’s liver. The results gathered by these devices can be used to measure liver stiffness, and fat content, and provide in-depth information about the overall health and function of the liver. Unlike surgical equipment, FibroScan is non-invasive and unlike biopsies, FibroScan tests are quick, painless, risk-free, and easier to perform in general care settings.

So, will surgical equipment soon become obsolete in the world of liver disease diagnoses? Not yet. Although FibroScan is an excellent non-surgical alternative to traditional liver biopsies, its findings are not always sufficient to make definitive diagnoses. Here are 7 situations where FibroScan tests are not enough for producing accurate diagnoses for patients with liver conditions:

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Inconclusive FibroScan Results: In some cases, FibroScan test results may be inconclusive. To confirm the diagnosis of liver fibrosis, the healthcare expert may recommend a biopsy.

The Liver is Too Small: The ultrasound waves from a FibroScan machine may not accurately scan a liver that is too small.

Abnormal Liver Stiffness: Although FibroScan machines are highly accurate at revealing the degree of liver stiffness, for some conditions their accuracy fluctuates. For example, severe liver inflammation or cholestasis can cause abnormal degrees of liver stiffness. If a medical expert is not content with what the FibroScan results indicate, they may recommend a liver biopsy.

To Rule out Other Diseases: Unlike FibroScan tests, liver biopsy results can accurately rule out certain liver conditions. For example, hepatitis C cirrhotic patients often develop hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer. A FibroScan will not be able to reveal the presence of cancer in such patients. Only a biopsy can rule out or confirm cancer.

Monitoring Liver Disease Progression: Both FibroScan tests and liver biopsies provide a lot of insights into the degree of liver inflammation. But, liver biopsies reveal way more, especially if the patient has a chronic liver condition and is actively undergoing treatment. Hence, when dealing with severe cases of liver cancer, autoimmune liver disease, chronic hepatitis C, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), healthcare experts have to recommend biopsies.

Based on these five factors, it is safe to say that FibroScan tests will not replace traditional liver biopsies performed with surgical equipment anytime soon. Chronic liver disease plagues tens of millions of people across the world every year. Both FibroScan machines and traditional biopsies are vital tools in humanity’s war against chronic liver disease! 

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