According to an article recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, treatment with the anti-viral agent lamivudine (Epir HBV®) reduces the risk of developing hepatocellular cancer in patients infected with hepatitis B.
The most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, is characterized by cancer that starts in cells of the liver and can spread through blood and lymph vessels to different parts of the body. 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 the detoxification of numerous substances.
Infection with the virus hepatitis B increases a patient’s risk of developing hepatocellular cancer. There has been nationwide effort to vaccinate against hepatitis B to reduce the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma and researchers continue to evaluate ways to prevent the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients already infected with hepatitis B. Hepatocellular carcinoma is very prevalent in Asia, where a large portion of clinical studies evaluating this disease take place.
Researchers from Taiwan recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate the anti-viral agent lamivudine in patients with hepatitis B. This trial included 651 patients with hepatitis B infection and associated liver disease, who were treated with either lamivudine or placebo (inactive substitute). At 32 months follow-up, the rate of development of hepatocellular carcinoma was 3.9% in the group of patients treated with lamivudine, compared to 7.4% in the group who received placebo. Futhermore, disease progression was observed in only 7.8% of patients in the lamivudine group, compared to 17.4% in the placebo group. Lamivudine was very well tolerated. The study was closed early due to the obvious benefit of treatment with lamivudine.
The researchers concluded that treatment with lamivudine in patients with hepatitis B may significantly decrease the risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, even in those with liver disease associated with the virus. Patients with hepatitis B may wish to speak with their physician about their risks and benefits of treatment with lamuvidine.
Reference: Liaw Y-F, Sung J, Chow W, et al. Lamivudine for paitents with chronic hepatitis B and advanced liver disease. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2004; 351:1521-1531.