Non-invasive assessment of liver fibrosis: it is time for laboratory medicine

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Chronic liver diseases (CLDs) represent a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In all etiologies of CLDs, staging of liver fibrosis is essential for both prognosis and management. Until a few years ago, liver biopsy was the only tool for the diagnosis of liver fibrosis in patients with CLDs. However, liver biopsy is an invasive and costly procedure. More recently, various serum biomarkers and laboratory tests have been proposed as surrogates of liver histology. Due to inadequate diagnostic accuracy or to lack of sufficient validation, guidelines still do not recommend them as a substitute for liver biopsy that is still considered the gold standard for the diagnosis of liver fibrosis. Notably, non-invasive serum biomarkers, when combined, may reduce by 50%–80% the number of liver biopsies needed for correctly classifying hepatic fibrosis. However, liver biopsy cannot be avoided completely, but should be used in those cases in which non-invasive methods show poor accuracy. In this view, serum biomarkers and liver biopsy represent a union between laboratory medicine and hepatology.

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