Facts and figures

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Background

  • 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 – 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 5th most common cause of cancer-related deaths globally, and the 14th most prevalent in Europe4, It accounts for 5.4 %, or 695,000 deaths worldwide (47000 deaths in Europe)5. Liver cancer is the leading cause of death amongst patients with liver cirrhosis6.
  • Epidemiological projections point to an increase in the number of people at risk of chronic liver disease7.

References

  1. British Liver Trust, ‘Looking after your liver’ Available at: http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/liver-information/looking-after-your-liver/
  2. The European Liver Patients Association (April 2005). http://www.elpa-info.org/.
  3. EU Statistical Yearbook 2006-2007, data from 2004. ECDC Epidemiological Report on communicable Diseases, May 2007.
  4. Ferlay J. et al. (2010). Estimates of cancer incidence and mortality in Europe in 2008. Eur J Cancer 46(4):765–81.
  5. European Association for the Study of the Liver http://www.easl.eu
  6. Sangiovanni A. et al (2004). Increased survival of cirrhotic patients with a hepatocellular carcinoma detected during surveillance. Gastroenterology, 126(4):1005-14.
  7. Burroughs, A. and McNamara, D. (2003). Liver disease in Europe. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 18:54–59.

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