The use of antiviral drugs to treat patients with hepatitis C could greatly reduce their risk of developing liver cancer, according to the results of a study published in BMJ Open.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for over 500 functions, including the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins, and fats; the production of bile; the processing of hemoglobin; and detoxification of numerous substances. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver and one of the leading causes of liver cancer.
To evaluate the link between antiviral therapy and subsequent risk of liver cancer, researchers performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of eight randomized clinical trials comparing antiviral therapy versus placebo or no intervention. Nearly 1,200 patients in the studies received antiviral therapy, most often interferon. Antiviral treatment continued for six months to a year and patients were monitored for 5-8 years after treatment. These patients were compared with nearly 1,200 patients who did not receive antiviral treatment.
During follow-up, 81 patients who received antiviral therapy were diagnosed with liver cancer, compared with 129 patients who did not receive antiviral therapy. The researchers concluded that antiviral therapy reduced the risk of liver cancer by 47 percent.
The rate of liver cancer is on the rise in the U.S.—in part due to rising rates of hepatitis C. Treating hepatitis C with antiviral therapy could reduce subsequent risk of liver cancer.
Kimer N, Dahl EK, Gluud LL, Krag A. Antiviral therapy for prevention of hepatocellular carcinoma in chronic hepatitis C: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open 2012; 2:e001313 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001313.