The liver has over 300 functions including clearing toxins from the blood, assisting blood clotting, producing enzymes for digestion and making proteins such as albumin. The liver is very efficient at repairing itself, but if it is under continuous attack by excess alcohol or fat, infectious agents such as hepatitis viruses, or via genetic diseases that load the liver with iron or block the passage of bile from the liver, it can become so scarred that it is no longer able to function. This scarring process is called fibrosis and if left untreated results in cirrhosis, which predisposes the liver to the development of liver cancer. The most common causes of cirrhosis in Australia are alcohol-related liver disease, chronic hepatitis B and C, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and haemochromatosis.
It is estimated that over 6 million Australians have some form of liver disease and that many will progress to cirrhosis. The prevalence of liver disease is rising in our community, as is the incidence of liver cancer, and this appears largely to reflect our rising level of obesity. This means that liver disease is going to continue to represent one of the most significant chronic health problems in Australia in the coming years and decades.