Interferon therapy reduces the risk for hepatocellular carcinoma

By Howard J. Worman, M. D.

Yoshida, H., Shiratori, Y., Moriyama, M., Arakawa, Y., Ide, T., Sata, M., Inoue, O., Yano, M., Tanaka, M., Fujiyama, S., Nishiguchi, S., Kuroki, T., Imazeki, F., Yokosuka, O., Kinoyama, S., Yamada, G., and Omata, M. for the IHIT Study Group.

Annals of Internal Medicine. 131:174-181.

Chronic infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) can lead to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (primary liver cancer). Those with cirrhosis caused by HCV infection are at a higher risk of developing cancer than those without cirrhosis and HCV infection.

Several past studies have suggested that treatment of HCV infection with interferon-alpha may reduce the risk of developing cancer. In this retrospective (backward-looking) study from 70 university hospitals in Japan, 2,890 patients with chronic hepatitis C who had liver biopsies were studied. Of these, 2,400 were treated with interferon and 490 were not treated.

Response to interferon was determined virologically and biochemically. Screening for the development of hepatocellular carcinoma was performed approximately every 6 months by ultrasonography for an average period of 4.3 years.

Hepatocellular carcinoma developed in 89 patients who were treated with interferon and 59 who were not. The annual incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma in the untreated patients increased with the degree of liver fibrosis on biopsy. Interferon treatment was associated with a decreased risk of carcinoma, especially among patients who had a sustained virological response (no detectable virus after treatment) and persistently normal or low serum alanine aminotransferase activities after treatment.

These results suggest that interferon treatment decreases the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with chronic hepatitis C.

Copyright, 2000, Columbia University Division of Gastroenterology


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