For hepatitis B-related liver cancer, the odds may get better

November 17, 2012 | by

Liver cancer patients with active hepatitis B infections face a significantly higher risk of tumor recurrence and death from liver cancer after tumor removal than do patients not infected with hepatitis B. But antiviral drugs may significantly improve their odds of remaining cancer-free.

Hepatitis B virus

Antiviral drugs may improve the odds for liver cancer patients with hepatitis B, new research suggests. (Credit: Thinkstock)

In  a study published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 518 hepatitis B-infected liver cancer patients who underwent liver resection surgery and who received antiviral therapy were compared to 4,051 patients who received only liver resection surgery. After adjusting for mortality not related to liver cancer, researchers found that the treated group had lower rates of cancer recurrence (45.6% for the treated group vs. 54.6% for the untreated group) and of mortality (29% for treated group vs. 42.4% for untreated group).

The study, conducted by researchers in Taiwan and China, was also presented at the Liver Meeting, held Nov. 9-13, in Boston.

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 28,000 new cases of liver cancer will be diagnosed this year, with 20,000 deaths from the disease. Worldwide, hepatitis infection is the leading cause of liver cancer, contributing to about 80 percent of new cases.

Marwan Fakih, M.D., director of gastrointestinal medical oncology at City of Hope, was not involved with the research, but said the study shows just how much of an impact antiviral therapy could have.

“The data does strongly support the potential protective effect of antiviral therapy for hepatitis B infected liver cancer patients after a surgical resection,” Fakih said.

Fakih acknowledged that differences between the study’s two groups, such as extent of liver damage, severity of the hepatitis B infection and other medical conditions, could affect interpretation of the study. But, he said, the overall findings are very encouraging and support setting a standard of antiviral-therapy use for liver cancer patients with hepatitis B.

“Also of importance is that this study identifies non-steroidal inflammatory drugs and statins as possible agents for reducing liver cancer recurrence risk as well,” Fakih said, “but further research is needed to confirm this connection.”

For more information about liver cancer treatment, detection and research at City of Hope, visit our liver cancer page.