Widespread treatment of hepatitis C virus significantly reduced the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, based on 18 years of data from patients in Veterans Health Administration hospitals.
Although eradication of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections has been shown to reduce the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), effective direct-acting antiviral therapies available since 2013 appear underused in the United States, with a 14% cure rate for HCV patients as of 2016, wrote Lauren A. Beste, MD, of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, and colleagues.
However, “the Veterans Health Administration, the largest integrated health care system in the U.S., provides unrestricted access to HCV treatments and approximately 85% of its case load has achieved cure,” the researchers said.
In a letter published in JAMA, the researchers identified all patients in the VHA diagnosed with HCC based on electronic health records for each year between 2002 and 2018. HCV infection was based on any history of detectable viral load, and HCV cure was defined as a negative viral load at least 12 weeks following completion of antiviral treatment, the researchers said.
“We categorized patients into 3 groups as of the time of HCC diagnosis: HCC/HCV viremic (latest HCV RNA before HCC diagnosis was positive), HCC/HCV cured (HCV eradicated before HCC diagnosis), and HCC/non-HCV (no positive lifetime HCV RNA),” they explained.
The sum of HCC/HCV viremic plus HCC/HCV cured made up the HCC/HCV total. Overall, the incidence of HCC/HCV total increased from 2000 to 2015, peaked at 31.0 per 100,000 patients in 2015, and decreased to 21.8 per 100,000 in 2018 after the introduction of viral eradication efforts from 2014 to 2016.
HCV treatment shows value despite lack of causality
Although the study could not prove causality, “the timing of HCV eradication and declining HCC incidence, lack of decline in non–HCV-related HCC, and prior studies demonstrating that HCV eradication reduces HCC risk, provide indirect evidence that this decline may be related to widespread HCV treatment,” the researchers said.
The findings were limited by several factors including the observational study design, use of the International Classification of Diseases to define HCC, use of a VA population that might limit generalizability, and lack of data on the severity of disease prior to treatment, the researchers noted. However, “HCC incidence trends should continue to be monitored closely because patients cured of HCV may have yet to experience the full potential of risk reduction,” and the study results support large-scale campaigns to eliminate HCV as well as monitoring for HCC and HCV patients who achieve disease eradication, they concluded.
The study was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute and the Veterans Affairs Clinical Science Research and Development. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.
SOURCE: Beste LA et al. .