Antiviral Drugs Reduce Liver Cancer Risk in Patients With Hepatitis C


New generation of antiviral drugs cause significant reduction in the risk for the most common type of adult liver cancer in patients with HCV.

Hepatitis C (HCV) patients who cleared the virus with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs showed a "considerable reduction" in the risk of the most common type of adult liver cancer, a retrospective study concluded.

Further, there was no evidence to suggest that DAAs promote hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), according to research by Fasiha Kanwal (pictured), MD, MSHS, and her colleagues at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

However, the absolute risk for HCC remained high in HCV patients with cirrhosis, according to the results. These individuals should be considered for ongoing surveillance, the researchers said.

Hepatocellular carcinoma is the fastest growing cause of cancer-related deaths in the US, with chronic HCV infection the leading risk factor for the disease.

The Texas researchers set out to examine the risks and determinants of HCC in hepatitis C patients who had reached sustained virologic response (SVR) with direct-acting antiviral drugs.

Data on HCC risk following DAA-induced SVR are still "sparse and conflicting," the authors wrote.

For instance, some studies suggest an unusually high rate of liver cancer after DAA induced SVR, while other research has found that SVR is associated with decreased HCC incidence in patients with cirrhosis compared to patients who had not cleared the virus.

The authors conducted their retrospective cohort investigation by studying 22,500 HCV patients who were treated with DAAs in Veterans Health Administration hospitals in 2015. Among these individuals, 19,518 had achieved SVR and 2,982 had not. Their mean age was 61.6 years old and 39% had cirrhosis.

The researchers found that SVR was associated with a 76% reduction in HCC risk in patients treated with DAAs when compared with patients who did not achieve SVR. In addition, the relative benefit of being cured with antiviral therapy persisted after accounting for demographic and clinical differences and was similar in those with and without cirrhosis.

“These data show that successful eradication of HCV confers a benefit in DAA treated patients,” the researchers wrote.

Despite this benefit, the absolute risk of HCC persisted in patients who achieved SVR, the researchers said. Liver cancer developed in 183 of these individuals for an annual incidence of 0.9%. This was higher than in patients who’d been cured with interferon-based therapies, where the HCC incidence was about 0.3%, according to previous studies.

The researchers speculated that DAAs offer a potential cure for all HCV patients including individuals with advanced cirrhosis and those who use alcohol. These characteristics are independently associated with risk of HCC in hepatitis C patients.

With interferon-based therapies, such individuals were typically not treated or had poor responses, according to the study.

“The treated population has changed significantly in the DAA era to include many patients with other HCC risk factors,” the researchers wrote. “These differences likely explain why the newer cohorts of DAA treated patients face higher absolute HCC risk than expected based on historic data.”

The study, "Risk of Hepatocellular Cancer in HCV Patients Treated with Direct Acting Antiviral Agents," was published online in Gastroenterology last month.

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