This systematic review addresses 2 questions pertinent to the need for pretreatment liver biopsy in patients with chronic hepatitis C: how well do liver biopsy results predict treatment outcomes for chronic hepatitis C? How well do biochemical blood tests and serologic measures of fibrosis predict the biopsy findings in chronic hepatitis C? Medline and other electronic databases were searched from January 1985 to March 2002. Additional articles were sought in references of pertinent articles and recent journals and by querying experts. Articles were eligible for review if they reported original human data from a study that used virological, histological, pathologic, or clinical outcome measures. Paired reviewers assessed the quality of each eligible study and abstracted data. Studies suggested that advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis on initial liver biopsy is associated with a modestly decreased likelihood of a sustained virological response (SVR) to treatment. Also, studies relatively consistently showed that serum aminotransferases have modest value in predicting fibrosis on biopsy; that extracellular matrix tests hyaluronic acid and laminin may have value in predicting fibrosis, and that panels of tests may have the greatest value in predicting fibrosis or cirrhosis. Biochemical and serologic tests were best at predicting no or minimal fibrosis, or at predicting advanced fibrosis/cirrhosis, and were poor at predicting intermediate levels of fibrosis. Thus, evidence suggests that liver biopsy may have some usefulness in predicting efficacy of treatment in patients with chronic hepatitis C, and biochemical blood tests and serologic tests currently have only modest value in predicting fibrosis on liver biopsy.
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