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NAFLD Can Lead to Liver Cancer

  • Publish Date : 2019/03/13 - (Rev. 2019/03/15)
  • Author : Canadian Liver Foundation*
  • Contact : liver.ca

Synopsis: Affecting over seven million Canadians, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease remains an unknown and significant threat to men, women and children.

Main Document

Over half of Canadians are unaware the most common liver disease in Canada could lead to liver cancer, death. Affecting over seven million Canadians, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease remains an unknown and significant threat to men, women and children.

A new Ipsos survey conducted by the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) has revealed that 56 per cent of Canadians do not know that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) could lead to liver cancer, the need for a liver transplant and even death.

NAFLD affects 1 in 5 (or over 7 million) Canadians, from adults to children, and occurs when too much fat is stored in the liver of someone who drinks little to no alcohol. The disease generally has no symptoms and is mainly linked to obesity, poor eating/exercise habits, and type 2 diabetes.

The poll also revealed that a staggering 89 per cent of Canadians have little to no knowledge of NAFLD at all.

"It's shocking that NAFLD remains underestimated by Canadians considering the significant harm it can cause to individuals and their families across the country," says Gary Fagan, President of the CLF. "This is a disease that is projected to overtake hepatitis C as the number one cause for liver transplants, but it remains overlooked by the average person who may think alcohol is the liver's only threat."

If NAFLD is not diagnosed or managed early enough, it can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), where fibrosis and cirrhosis (irreversible scarring) occurs, possibly leading to liver cancer or liver failure.

With NAFLD/NASH rates expected to climb past 2030, experts are concerned about their impact on other complications like liver cancer.

"Liver cancer is one of the few cancers in Canada that continues rising while most others are falling," says Fagan. "When our society normalizes unhealthy habits like eating fast food and binge-watching hours of television without being active; we all end up paying for it with our health."

The good news is that NAFLD can often be prevented or even reversed if it is detected before permanent liver damage has occurred. Experts suggest making small changes like encouraging your family to take walks together or parking a little further from the grocery store entrance are great places to start. Getting at least two and a half hours of exercise a week, eating foods that are low in saturated (animal) fats, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting consumption of sugary drinks are all long-term goals that can make a tremendous impact on your liver health.

Other Poll Findings

  • Nearly two-thirds of Canadians consider themselves as 'overweight.'
  • Just 34 per cent state they have 'very healthy' eating habits.
  • 62 per cent of Canadians do not exercise enough to meet Canada's recommended guidelines for physical activity on a regular basis.


  • NAFLD affects over 7 million Canadians and continues to increase.
  • Up to 90,000 NAFLD patients can develop liver cancer.
  • Up to 20 per cent of obese individuals in Canada have NASH.
  • Up to 11 per cent of NASH patients may die due to liver failure.
  • Children as young as two years old can be affected by NAFLD.

Check Your Engine

In honour of Liver Health Month in March, the CLF has launched the Check Your Engine campaign, comparing the human body to a high-performance vehicle, and the liver as that vehicle's precious engine. Our goal is to motivate individuals and families to avoid the risks associated with liver disease and to take a detour towards a healthy lifestyle!

The public can view and share our NAFLD quiz, our video (English & French) and visit www.liver.ca/CheckYourEngine for more information. We have gathered, practical tips, personal stories and handy tools to help Canadians 'take the wheel' and better control their liver health.

YouTube Video: Check Your Engine for Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.


From December 13th to December 19th, 2018 an online survey of Canadian adults selected by Ipsos was conducted on behalf of the Canadian Liver Foundation. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 3.5 %, 19 times out of 20. The results have been weighted by age, gender, education and region to match the population, according to Census data. This is to ensure the sample is representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Credibility intervals are wider among subsets of the population.

The Canadian Liver Foundation was founded in 1969 by a group of doctors and business leaders concerned about the increasing incidence of liver disease, the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) was the first organization in the world devoted to providing support for research and education into the causes, diagnoses, prevention and treatment of all liver disease. Today, we are bringing liver research to life by promoting liver health, improving public awareness and understanding of liver disease, raising funds for research and providing support to individuals affected by liver disease.

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