The complications of chronic hepatitis C, including cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, are expected to increase dramatically world-wide over the next 10–20 years. Immunomodulatory/anti-viral therapy, employing interferon alfa both alone and in combination with ribavirin, affords the only effective treatment for hepatitis C. Accurate early prediction of response to interferon therapy may decrease or eliminate unnecessary or ineffective treatment, permit greater flexibility in tailoring therapy on an individual basis, and enhance the cost-effectiveness of treatment.
Liver biopsy provides valuable information about the baseline severity and subsequent progression of hepatitis C. Severe fibrosis or cirrhosis on the pre-treatment liver biopsy is associated with decreased response rates. The measurement of viral RNA levels and genotyping may be used to optimize individual patient treatment. Genotype non-1 and a low viral load are the most significant pre-treatment indicators of sustained virological response.
The most reliable predictor of a poor virological response is continued seropositivity for viral RNA during therapy. Therefore, a decision to stop or continue treatment can be based on a positive viral RNA test at 12 weeks for interferon-naive patients receiving interferon or pegylated interferon therapy.