- 1Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, St George Hospital, Kogarah, New South Wales, Australia.
- 2School of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
Background and aim: Liver cirrhosis is the primary risk factor for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. Most conditions that lead to cirrhosis are treatable, or modifiable. Therefore, a community-based screening program targeting high-risk groups was designed for early diagnosis and intervention of liver disease, to offset the rising burden of hepatocellular carcinoma in Australia.
Methods: Two nurse consultants from a tertiary liver center performed community screening of pre-identified cohorts at risk of viral hepatitis and chronic liver disease, with transient elastography and/or serology testing for chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV), in addition to standard blood tests. A positive screening result was defined as any of the following: liver stiffness measurement (LSM) ≥ 9.5 kPa, positive HCV RNA, or positive HBV surface antigen. Individuals who screened positive were linked to the liver center for management.
Results: Nine hundred and twenty-six subjects were screened over a 6-year period, of which 122/926 (13.2%) had evidence of chronic liver disease. Chronic viral hepatitis was diagnosed in 91 participants (HBV = 23, HCV = 67, and co-infection = 1), while non-alcoholic fatty liver disease was diagnosed in 14 participants. Advanced fibrosis (LSM ≥ 9.5 kPa) was detected in 42/866 (4.9%) subjects with available LSM. Loss to follow-up occurred in 36/91 (39.6%) participants with chronic viral hepatitis.
Conclusions: Targeting high-risk populations for community screening and intervention increases early identification of chronic liver disease. This may reduce the incidence of liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Loss to follow-up remains an ongoing challenge, requiring better strategies.