The assessment of liver fibrosis is a major issue in the management of patients with chronic hepatitis C. Liver biopsy has traditionally been considered the gold standard for the evaluation of tissue damage, including fibrosis. In addition, it detects associated lesions such as steatosis, steatohepatitis or iron overload, which provide useful information for patient management and prognosis. Liver biopsy is, however, an invasive procedure, with a risk of rare but potentially life-threatening complications and it is prone to sampling errors. These limitations have led to the development of non-invasive methods.
Currently available tests rely on two different but complementary approaches: (i) a 'biological' approach based on the dosage of serum biomarkers of fibrosis; (ii) a 'physical' approach based on the measurement of liver stiffness, using transient elastography. Although significant progress has been made in the non-invasive diagnosis of fibrosis, it is increasingly clear that these methods will not completely replace liver biopsy. Instead, non-invasive methods and liver biopsy should be used in an integrated approach for more efficient and convenient management of patients with chronic hepatitis C. The aim of this review is to discuss the advantages and limitations of liver biopsy and non-invasive methods and the perspectives for their use in clinical practice.