Though progression of hepatitis C occurs very slowly, sometimes taking up to 30 years, it can progress much more quickly in some people. Others have the virus for years and have only minimal liver damage. Either way, the progression of the disease usually follows a pattern.
First stage: Inflammation
Inflammation is the first stage of hepatitis C progressing in the body. The liver becomes inflamed, tender and enlarged.
Second stage: Fibrosis
Fibrosis occurs when the damaged liver develops scars, and as the scars replace healthy liver tissue, liver function decreases.
Third stage: Cirrhosis
Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is so damaged and scarred that it can no longer heal itself and create new, healthy liver tissue. Cirrhosis develops about 20 years after contracting the disease. But, between 10 and 25 percent of those with hepatitis C develop cirrhosis within 15 years of contracting the virus.
Fourth stage: Liver cancer
The risk for liver cancer increases as the damage to the liver progresses. Cancer develops about 28 years after contracting the disease.
Fifth stage: Liver failure
As hepatitis C progresses, the liver is no longer able to function and is considered to be in failure. When the liver is damaged to the point it can no longer function, it is called end-stage hepatitis C. The only treatment at this point is a liver transplant.