Individuals with hepatitis C infection who achieved a sustained virologic response (SVR) to treatment with direct-acting antivirals had a significantly lower risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a new study suggests.
A retrospective cohort study of 22,500 U.S. veterans with hepatitis C who had been treated with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) found those with an SVR had a 72% lower risk of HCC, compared with those who did not achieve that response (hazard ratio, 0.28; 95% confidence interval, 0.22-0.36; P less than .0001), even after adjusting for demographics as well as clinical and health utilization factors.
“These data show that successful eradication of HCV [hepatitis C virus] confers a benefit in DAA-treated patients,” wrote , from the and her coauthors. “Although a few recent studies have raised concerns that DAA might accelerate the risk of HCC in some patients early in the course of treatment, we did not find any factors that differentiated patients with HCC that developed during DAA treatment.”
The results highlighted the importance of early treatment with antivirals, beginning well before the patients showed signs of progressing to advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis, the investigators noted.
“Delaying treatment until patients progress to cirrhosis might be associated with substantial downstream costs incurred as part of lifelong HCC surveillance and/or management of HCC,” they wrote.
Sustained virologic response to DAAs also was associated with a longer time to diagnosis, and patients who didn’t achieve it showed higher rates of cancer much earlier. The most common antivirals used were sofosbuvir (75.2%; 51.1% in combination with ledipasvir), the combination of paritaprevir/ritonavir (23.3%), daclatasvir-based treatments (0.8%), and simeprevir (0.7%).
While the patients achieved SVR that showed similarly beneficial effects on HCC risk in patients with or without cirrhosis, the authors also noted that patients with cirrhosis had a nearly fivefold greater risk of developing cancer than did those without (HR, 4.73; 95% CI, 3.34-6.68). Similarly, patients with a fibrosis score ( ) greater than 3.25 had a sixfold higher risk of HCC, compared with those with a value of 1.45 or lower.
Researchers commented that, at this level of risk, surveillance for HCC in these patients may be cost effective.
“Based on these data, HCC surveillance or risk modification may be needed for all patients who have progressed to cirrhosis or advanced fibrosis (as indicated by high FIB-4) at the time of SVR,” they wrote.
Alcohol use was also associated with a significantly higher annual incidence of HCC (HR, 1.56; 95% CI, 1.11-2.18).
Among the study cohort, 39% had cirrhosis, 29.7% had advanced fibrosis, and nearly one-quarter had previously been treated for hepatitis C infection. More than 40% also had diabetes, 61.4% reported alcohol use, and 54.2% had a history of drug use.
“DAAs offer a chance of cure for all patients with HCV, including patients with advanced cirrhosis, older patients, and those with alcohol use – all characteristics independently associated with risk of HCC in HCV,” the authors explained. “These data show the treated population has changed significantly in the DAA era to include many patients with other HCC risk factors; these differences likely explain why the newer cohorts of DAA-treated patients face higher absolute HCC risk than expected, based on historic data.”
The study was partly supported by the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness, and Safety at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. No conflicts of interest were declared.