According to an article recently published in the Annals of Surgery, administration of the immune stimulating agent interferon following surgery may improve survival among patients with advanced hepatitis B-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for more than 500 functions. These include the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins, and fats; the production of bile; the processing of hemoglobin; and the detoxification of numerous substances. Individuals with hepatitis infections have an increased risk of developing cancer of the liver.
Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of liver cancer; it is named for the type of cell within the liver where the cancer originated. Standard treatment options for HCC are determined by the stage, or extent of spread, of the cancer and by the patient’s overall health. A preferred treatment approach is the surgical removal of the cancer. Unfortunately, cancer recurrences following surgical removal are common. Researchers continue to evaluate ways to reduce these recurrences.
Researchers recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate the use of interferon following surgery in patients with HCC. Interferon is an agent that stimulates the immune system to fight cancer cells. This trial included 80 patients with hepatitis B and HCC that had been surgically removed. One group of patients then received interferon while the other group received no further treatment (control group). The group treated with interferon experienced better survival rates:
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- At one year survival rates were 97% for the group treated with interferon compared with 85% for the control group.
- At five years survival rates were 79% for the group treated with interferon compared with 61% for the control group.
- Among patients with more advanced cancers (Stages III and IV), survival at five years was 68% for the group treated with interferon compared with only 24% for the control group.
The researchers concluded that treatment with interferon following the complete surgical removal of HCC among patients with hepatitis B appears to significantly improve survival, particularly among patients with more advanced disease. Patients with HCC may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating treatment with interferon or other novel therapeutic agents. Sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov).
Reference: Lo C, Liu C, Chan S, et al. A Randomized, controlled trial of postoperative adjuvant interferon therapy after resection of hepatocellular carcinoma. Annals of Surgery. 2007;245:831-842.