From the Journals

Hepatitis screening now for all patients with cancer on therapy


Challenges in implementing universal HBV screening

The expert panel acknowledges the challenges associated with implementation of universal HBV screening as recommended in their report and notes that electronic health record–based approaches that use alerts to prompt screening have demonstrated success. In one study of high-risk primary care patients, an EHR alert system significantly increased testing rates (odds ratio, 2.64 in comparison with a control group without alerts), and another study that used a simple “sticky-note” alert system to promote referral of HBsAg patients to hepatologists increased referrals from 28% to 73%.

In a cancer population, a “comprehensive set of multimodal interventions,” including pharmacy staff checks for screening prior to anti-CD20 therapy administration and electronic medication order reviews to assess for appropriate testing and treatment before anti-CD20 therapy, increased testing rates to greater than 90% and antiviral prophylaxis rates to more than 80%.

A study of 965 patients in Taiwan showed that a computer-assisted reminder system that prompted for testing prior to ordering anticancer therapy increased screening from 8% to 86% but was less effective for improving the rates of antiviral prophylaxis for those who tested positive for HBV, particularly among physicians treating patients with nonhematologic malignancies.

“Future studies will be needed to make universal HBV screening and linkage to care efficient and systematic, likely based in EHR systems,” the panel says. The authors note that “[o]ngoing studies of HBV tests such as ultrasensitive HBsAg, HBV RNA, and hepatitis B core antigen are being studied and may be useful in predicting risk of HBV reactivation.”

The panel also identified a research gap related to HBV reactivation risks “for the growing list of agents that deplete or modulate B cells.” It notes a need for additional research on the cost-effectiveness of HBV screening. The results of prior cost analyses have been inconsistent and vary with respect to the population studied. For example, universal screening and antiviral prophylaxis approaches have been shown to be cost-effective for patients with hematologic malignancies and high HBV reactivation risk but are less so for patients with solid tumors and lower reactivation risk, they explain.

Dr. Hwang said that not one of the more than 2100 patients in her HBV screening cohort study encountered problems with receiving insurance payment for their HBV screening.

“That’s a really strong statement that insurance payers are accepting of this kind of preventative service,” she said.

Expert panel cochair Andrew Artz, MD, commented that there is now greater acceptance of the need for HBV screening across medical specialties.

“There’s growing consensus among hepatologists, infectious disease specialists, oncologists, and HBV specialists that we need to do a better job of finding patients with hepatitis B [who are] about to receive immunocompromising treatment,” Dr. Artz said in an interview.

Dr. Artz is director of the Program for Aging and Blood Cancers and deputy director of the Center for Cancer and Aging at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, Duarte, California.

He suggested that the growing acceptance is due in part to the increasing number of anticancer therapies available and the resulting increase in the likelihood of patients receiving therapies that could cause reactivation.

More therapies – and more lines of therapy – could mean greater risk, he explained. He said that testing is easy and that universal screening is the simplest approach to determining who needs it. “There’s no question we will have to change practice,” Dr. Artz said in an interview. “But this is easier than the previous approach that essentially wasn’t being followed because it was too difficult to follow and patients were being missed.”

Most clinicians will appreciate having an approach that’s easier to follow, Dr. Artz predicted.

If there’s a challenge it will be in developing partnerships with HBV specialists, particularly in rural areas. In areas where there is a paucity of subspecialists, oncologists will have to “take some ownership of the issue,” as they often do in such settings, he said.

However, with support from pharmacists, administrators, and others in embracing this guidance, implementation can take place at a systems level rather than an individual clinician level, he added.

The recommendations in this updated PCO were all rated as “strong,” with the exception of the recommendation on hormonal therapy in the absence of systemic anticancer therapy, which was rated as “moderate.” All were based on “informal consensus,” with the exception of the key recommendation for universal HBV screening – use of three specific tests – which was “evidence based.”

The expert panel agreed that the benefits outweigh the harms for each recommendation in the update.

Dr. Hwang received research funding to her institution from Gilead Sciences and Merck Sharp & Dohme. She also has a relationship with the Asian Health Foundation. Dr. Artz received research funding from Miltenyi Biotec. All expert panel members’ disclosures are available in the PCO update.

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