Antiviral therapy can prevent liver cancer in patients with hepatitis B

A recently discovered antiviral therapy may help prevent the hepatitis B virus from developing into hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer.

The study, published in the May issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, analyzed more than 2,600 adults with hepatitis B.

The study revealed a lower occurrence of HCC in patients treated with antiviral therapy during a five-year follow-up period. The chances of developing HCC were 60 percent lower in patients who received antiviral therapy when compared with untreated patients.

"The results of this study allow us to reassure our patients that we are not just treating their viral levels, but that antiviral therapy may actually lessen their chance of developing liver cancer," Stuart C. Gordon, M.D., said. Gordon worked with on the study in Detroit with Mei Lu, a senior scientist at the Henry Ford Ford Health System.

Other institutions participated in the study, along with the Henry Ford Health System. Investigators also performed research at Kaiser Permanente in Honolulu, Hawaii and Portland, Ore.; Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa.; and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

"This study was one of the first to address antiviral therapy and its efficacy in preventing hepatitis B from developing into liver cancer," Joseph Boscarino, a senior scientist and investigator for the Geisinger site, said. "With this information, clinicians can begin to prescribe antiviral therapy for hepatitis B patients with the goal of preventing a common and dangerous form of cancer."

HCC is typically caused by scarring of the liver, often as a result of hepatitis B or C, alcohol abuse, iron overload or chronic liver inflammation.