Clinical Topics & News

Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) Testing in Veterans Receiving Systemic Anticancer Treatment



Examine hepatitis B virus (HBV) testing in veterans receiving systemic anticancer treatment (SACT) in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).


HBV reactivation is reported in patients with chronic (HB surface antigen, HBsAg, positive) or prior (HB core antibody, HBcAb, positive) HBV infection, who receive SACT. A recent American Society of Clinical Oncology provisional clinical opinion update recommended HBV screening for all patients prior to initiation of SACT (excluding hormonal therapy). HBV testing and the incidence of hepatitis in veterans receiving SACT in the VHA has not been reported.

Methods/Data Analysis

VHA EHR data were used to identify veterans receiving SACT (01/2010-12/2021). Testing for HBsAg, HBcAb and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) was extracted. Patients known to have HBV or elevated ALT prior to first SACT, and those receiving anti-CD20 were excluded. Patients were followed until two years after the last SACT or 12/2021, whichever occurred first. Patients receiving intravenous SACT and those receiving oral SACT are described separately.


Between 2010 and 2021, 215,395 veterans received an intravenous SACT, while 80,752 veterans received an oral SACT. Of patients treated with an SACT, 80% had no evidence of HBsAg or HBcAb testing prior to treatment initiation, and 8-12% experienced at least one elevated ALT between treatment initiation and two years after the last SACT. There was no evidence of increased ALT elevation in patients who were not tested compared to those that were tested prior to treatment initiation. In patients with at least one ALT elevation, approximately 30% were tested for HBV and of these, 3% tested positive.


Most veterans receiving SACT are not tested for HBV prior to treatment initiation, and do not experience elevated ALTs. In patients with elevated ALT during or subsequent to SACT, the majority are not tested for HBV. Veterans that are tested reveal an HBV prevalence of about 10%. Our results suggest that HBV testing prior to SACT initiation should not be at the expense of delaying treatment, given the magnitude of proposed change from current practice and the anticipated low probability of benefit.

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