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Interferon-alfa may help to prevent cancer recurrences following surgery in patients with hepatitis C-related liver cancer, according to a recent article published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Primary cancer of the liver is characterized by cancer cells that begin to grow in the liver, the largest organ in the human body. These cancer cells can then grow in size and can also spread to the veins or arteries of the liver and/or to other parts of the body (called advanced or metastatic disease). The most common type of primary liver cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma. Treatment of primary cancer of the liver depends largely on the size and stage of disease (extent of disease at diagnosis). When possible, the cancer is completely surgically removed from the liver (called surgical resection), offering a chance for cure. However, even when all visible cancer is removed, there is a risk that a small undetectable amount of cancer cells remain. These cancer cells are responsible for cancer recurrences. The outcome of surgery depends on many factors, including the size and stage of the cancer, whether there are residual cancer cells remaining after surgery, and whether the liver is damaged by other diseases such as hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Persons with chronic hepatitis C (a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver) are at an increased risk for developing liver cancer. Previous studies have demonstrated that interferon therapy, a substance that stimulates the immune system to help fight cancer, has been shown to decrease the incidence of liver cancer in patients with chronic hepatitis C. This information has prompted researchers from Japan to conduct a clinical trial evaluating interferon-alfa treatment following surgery in patients with hepatitis C-related liver cancer in an attempt to reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence.

In this clinical trial, 30 patients with hepatitis C-related liver cancer underwent the surgical removal of their cancer. Following surgery, 15 patients received interferon for 88 weeks and 15 patients received no further treatment. At approximately 2 years following treatment, recurrences had occurred in only 5 patients who received interferon treatment compared with 12 patients who received no further treatment.

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These results suggest that postoperative interferon therapy may significantly decrease the risk of recurrence after surgery for patients with hepatitis C-related liver cancer. Persons who have liver cancer may wish to talk with their doctor about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial evaluating postoperative interferon or other promising new therapeutic approaches. Sources of information on ongoing clinical trials include listing services provided by the National Cancer Institute ( (Annals of Internal Medicine , Vol 134, No 10, pp 963-967, 2001)