When you step back and think about it, scanning is really quite amazing. It lets us look inside your body to check your bones, soft tissues or internal organs.
Scanning has truly revolutionised medicine. Before X-rays, it wasn’t always easy to tell if you’d fractured a bone. Before MRIs, it was harder to detect tumours. Before ultrasound, we couldn’t see unborn babies in the womb to check on their health or identify their gender.
So, what about liver scans? How do they work? And what do they show?
What is a FibroScan?
The FibroScan® 502 Touch is a liver scanning machine.
Previously, assessing the liver’s health required an invasive and often uncomfortable liver biopsy. And that only told us about the health of one tiny part of your liver – the bit we’d biopsied.
Now, though, we can use a liver scan – a non-invasive way to check your liver’s health in its entirety.
How is a liver scan done?
It’s similar to an ultrasound and takes less than half an hour to complete. The nurse will apply some water-based gel to your skin then place the probe at a precise point on your right-hand side. You may feel a gentle vibration at the site of the probe, which generates a vibration wave.
We take multiple consecutive measurements at the same spot to measure the state of your liver in its entirety. This is superior to a traditional liver biopsy where only a small part of the liver is examined.
For 4 hours before your liver scan, please don’t eat, smoke or chew. You can drink water but nothing else.
What can a liver scan show?
Your liver is a vital organ that performs over 500 functions every day. It cleans and processes virtually everything you eat, drink, breathe or rub on your skin. That includes any drugs, alcohol or medication you take.
Unlike your other organs, your liver is able to regenerate itself to some degree. But life can catch up with it eventually. A liver scan inspects your liver for signs of damage such as scarring (fibrosis, measured in kilopascals) or fat deposits (steatosis, measured in controlled attenuation parameter).
How are the results of a liver scan used?
Liver scan results may be used to:
- Estimate or stage the existing degree of liver damage
- Monitor disease progression or regression via serial measurements
- Decide if a liver biopsy is needed
- Guide prognosis and further management, including treatment decisions.
What’s the science behind liver scanning?
There’s far more to the world than we can see with the naked eye. Take sound waves. They help us detect earthquakes, they help dolphins navigate the ocean and they help bats find prey.
They also help us assess your liver. A liver scan uses a series of short, pulsed, low-frequency sound waves and vibration waves (sheer wave elastography) to measure liver stiffness. The faster the wave travels through the liver, the more serious the scarring.
It’s a bit like an ultrasound but the result is displayed as a number or score rather than a picture. This number tells us how much scarring or fat is present in your liver and guides treatment choices.
Why should you consider getting a liver scan?
Liver disease now affects 1 in 3 Australians. That means many of us could benefit from a liver scan.
If you regularly drink alcohol above recommended levels or take certain medications, you may benefit from a liver scan.
A liver scan may also prove useful if you’ve ever been diagnosed with:
- Alcohol-related liver disease
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver fisease (NAFLD or NASH) now known as metabolic associate fatty liver disease (MAFLD)
- Hepatitis B and C
- Advanced fibrosis
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Cholestatic liver disease (PBC and PSC)
- Drug-related liver disease
- Alcohol-related disease
- HIV/HCV coinfection
- Cholestatic disease
How can Moonee Valley Specialist Centre help?
Liver scan technology is the key to spotting early health warnings. Regular checks can help identify issues and prevent irreparable long-term liver damage.
Moonee Valley Specialist Centre is one of only a few private practices in Melbourne to conduct liver scans using a state-of-the-art FibroScan® 502 Touch device.
You don’t even need a GP referral. Simply book an appointment and find out how your liver is doing.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. A second opinion may help you decide if a particular treatment is right for you.