Background. Current practice guidelines recommend liver biopsy prior to treatment of hepatitis C genotype-1 but not for genotype-2/3; this is based on expert opinion, not on published evidence.
Methods. In retrospective analysis of a large trial database prior to the publication of recent guidelines, we compared outcomes in 985 treatment-naïve patients with hepatitis C who did or did not undergo liver biopsy before starting peginterferon alfa-2a plus ribavirin.
Results. Physicians elected to treat 141/654 (21.6%) genotype-1 patients and 126/331 (38.1%) genotype-2/3 patients without liver biopsy. There were no differences in baseline characteristics among those with or without pre-treatment liver biopsy, except for female preponderance in genotype-1 patients with liver biopsy. The sustained viral response (SVR) rate was no different amongst genotype-2/3 patients who had a biopsy before treatment with 66.3% SVR vs. 69.8% of those treated without biopsy (p = 0.546), but significantly higher among genotype-1 patients with pre-treatment liver biopsy at 54.6 vs. 44.0% for those treated without a liver biopsy (p = 0.029). In genotype-1 patients with liver biopsy, more patients with cirrhosis had dose adjustments (p = 0.0057) rather than drug discontinuation. There was tendency for earlier discontinuation among patients without pre-treatment liver biopsy.
Conclusions. Pre-treatment liver biopsy was associated with better SVR amongst genotype-1 patients. This improvement may reflect ongoing commitment to completing the treatment course by both patient and physician. In genotype-2/3 patients, pre-treatment liver biopsy may not be essential to maximize SVR rates. This study validates the recommendations of the most recent treatment guidelines for hepatitis C.