This information is intended for healthcare and professional audiences.
Facts and figures
- The liver is the body’s largest internal organ and is essential to life. It performs over 500 different functions for the body, including: processing digested food from the intestine; combating infections in the body; manufacturing, breaking down and regulating numerous hormones; and making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body1.
- The liver’s complexity makes it susceptible to many different diseases, including:
- Hepatitis – the most common liver disease which causes inflammation of the liver. It can occur in both viral (e.g. Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E) and non-viral forms (e.g. alcoholic and autoimmune hepatitis) and may result in an acute or chronic condition.
- Cirrhosis – the excessive development of scar tissue within the liver which can lead to complete liver failure. This is the result of long-term, continuous damage to the organ.
- Fatty liver disease – covering a range of conditions where there is a build-up of fat in the liver cells. It is caused by certain chemical compounds (particularly alcohol) and by nutritional and endocrine disorders, such as obesity and diabetes.
- Liver cancer – which may occur as both primary (cancer that starts in the liver) and secondary (cancer that first develops elsewhere in the body and then spreads to the liver).
- Genetic diseases – such as haemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease and Glibert’s syndrome.
The scale of the issue
- The prevalence of liver diseases is estimated to be approximately 6% in the EU2 – in other words, some 29 million people suffer from liver diseases.
- In Europe, liver disease causes the death of 70,000 people annually and it is the fifth most common cause of death, responsible for just over 14% of all deaths. This varies widely across Europe, from 54% in Hungary to 4% in the Netherlands3.
- Hepatitis, the most common liver disease, is estimated to affect over 10 million people in Europe3.
- Liver cancer is the 3rd most common cause of cancer-related death globally4, causing 610,000 deaths per year5. Liver cancer is the leading cause of death amongst patients with liver cirrhosis6.
- Epidemiological projections point to a four-fold increase in the number of people at risk of chronic liver disease over the next 10–15 years7.
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