Value of liver biopsy
prior to treatment with Interferon in HCV patients
The present study prospectively evaluated the value of liver biopsy in patients with chronic hepatitis B (N = 75) and C (N = 135) prior to interferon therapy. Biopsy specimens revealed cirrhosis in 26% of patients with hepatitis B and 30% with hepatitis C. Although cirrhosis was not predictable by laboratory values in individual patients mean gamma-GT, alkaline phosphatase, and bilirubin levels were significantly higher in patients with cirrhosis compared to those without. Since cirrhosis significantly impairs the response rate to interferon therapy in hepatitis C but not in hepatitis B, liver biopsy is important for the management of chronic hepatitis C infection. In 88% of patients with serum HBV-DNA, irrespective of the serum HBeAg status, chronic active hepatitis was seen. Similarly, chronic active hepatitis was found in 84% of patients with elevated aminotransferases and hepatitis C antibodies. Thus, chronic active hepatitis was diagnosed in the majority of cases with chronic viral hepatitis, showing that this histopathological diagnosis is of little additional value for the recommendation on interferon treatment in these patients. However, none of the other grading systems of liver biopsy specimens described so far have been evaluated for their ability to predict overall prognosis or response rates to interferon therapy. Therefore, the physician is presently left with the questionable value of a procedure with well-known risks and costs in patients suitable for interferon treatment. Hence, prospective randomized controlled studies to evaluate histopathological grading systems are urgently needed to redefine the necessity of liver biopsy in this routine clinical setting.