From the Journals

Hepatitis screening now for all patients with cancer on therapy


All patients with cancer who are candidates for systemic anticancer therapy should be screened for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection prior to or at the start of therapy, according to an updated provisional clinical opinion (PCO) from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“This is a new approach [that] will actively take system changes ... but it will ultimately be safer for patients – and that is crucial,” commented Jessica P. Hwang, MD, MPH, cochair of the American Society of Clinical Oncology HBV Screening Expert Panel and the first author of the PCO.

Uptake of this universal screening approach would streamline testing protocols and identify more patients at risk for HBV reactivation who should receive prophylactic antiviral therapy, Dr. Hwang said in an interview.

The PCO calls for antiviral prophylaxis during and for at least 12 months after therapy for those with chronic HBV infection who are receiving any systemic anticancer treatment and for those with have had HBV in the past and are receiving any therapies that pose a risk for HBV reactivation.

Hepatitis B reactivation can cause really terrible outcomes, like organ failure and even death,” Dr. Hwang, who is also a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, commented in an interview.

“This whole [issue of] reactivation and adverse outcomes with anticancer therapies is completely preventable with good planning, good communication, comanagement with specialists, and antiviral therapy and monitoring,” she added.

The updated opinion was published online July 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

It was developed in response to new data that call into question the previously recommended risk-adaptive approach to HBV screening of cancer patients, say the authors.

ASCO PCOs are developed “to provide timely clinical guidance” on the basis of emerging practice-changing information. This is the second update to follow the initial HBV screening PCO, published in 2010. In the absence of clear consensus because of limited data, the original PCO called for a risk-based approach to screening. A 2015 update extended the recommendation for screening to patients starting anti-CD20 therapy or who are to undergo stem cell transplant and to those with risk factors for HBV exposure.

The current update provides “a clinically pragmatic approach to HBV screening and management” that is based on the latest findings, say the authors. These include findings from a multicenter prospective cohort study of more than 3000 patients. In that study, 21% of patients with chronic HBV had no known risk factors for the infection. In another large prospective observational cohort study, led by Dr. Hwang, which included more than 2100 patients with cancer, 90% had one or more significant risk factors for HBV infection, making selective screening “inefficient and impractical,” she said.

“The results of these two studies suggest that a universal screening approach, its potential harms (e.g., patient and clinician anxiety about management, financial burden associated with antiviral therapy) notwithstanding, is the most efficient, clinically pragmatic approach to HBV screening in persons anticipating systemic anticancer treatment,” the authors comment.

The screening recommended in the PCO requires three tests: hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), core antibody total immunoglobulin or IgG, and antibody to HBsAg tests.

Anticancer therapy should not be delayed pending the results, they write.

Planning for monitoring and long-term prophylaxis for chronic HBV infection should involve a clinician experienced in HBV management, the authors write. Management of those with past infection should be individualized. Alternatively, patients with past infection can be carefully monitored rather than given prophylactic treatment, as long as frequent and consistent follow-up is possible to allow for rapid initiation of antiviral therapy in the event of reactivation, they say.

Hormonal therapy without systemic anticancer therapy is not likely to lead to HBV reactivation in patients with chronic or past infection; antiviral therapy and management of these patients should follow relevant national HBV guidelines, they note.


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