According to a study published in the journal Cancer, colchicine may reduce the risk of hepatocellular (liver) cancer in patients with hepatitis-related liver cirrhosis. Several other studies, however, have failed to find a link between colchicine and survival in patients with cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis of the liver refers to a condition in which irreversible scarring of the liver occurs, resulting in decreased liver function. Common causes of cirrhosis include excessive alcohol consumption and infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C viruses. Individuals with cirrhosis have an increased risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer.
Colchicine is an anti-inflammatory drug that is used to treat gout. To explore whether colchicine can reduce the risk of HCC in patients with hepatitis-related cirrhosis, researchers in Mexico reviewed the medical records of 186 patients.
Colchicine had been given to 116 (62%) of the study participants. The decision about whether or not to use colchicine was made by the patient’s doctor prior to the start of the study. All patients were followed for at least three years.
- HCC developed in 9% of patients treated with colchicine and 29% of patients not treated with colchicine.
- HCC developed more slowly in patients treated with colchicine than in patients not treated with colchicine.
The researchers conclude that treatment with colchicine prevents or delays the development of HCC in patients with hepatitis-related cirrhosis. It is important to note, however, that a combined analysis of several other studies failed to find a link between colchicine and survival in patients with cirrhosis; this combined analysis also indicated an increased risk of side effects in patients treated with colchicine. It is also important to note that the current study did not randomly assign study subjects to a treatment group, but rather observed what happened to study subjects after their physician decided whether or not to use colchicine. This study design can be prone to bias.
 Arrieta O, Rodriguez-Diaz JL, Rosas-Camargo V et al. Colchicine Delays the Development of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Patients with Hepatitis Virus-related Liver Cirrhosis. Cancer. Early online publication September 11, 2006.