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Clinical and virological factors associated with hepatitis B virus reactivation in HBsAg-negative and anti-HBc antibodies-positive patients undergoing chemotherapy and/or autologous stem cell transplantation for cancer


René Gérolami, Service d ’Hépato-Gastro-Entérologie, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Conception, 147 boulevard Baille, 13385 Marseille Cedex 05, France. E-mail:


Summary.  We studied clinical outcome and clinico-virological factors associated with hepatitis B virus reactivation (HBV-R) following cancer treatment in hepatitis B virus surface antigen (HBsAg)-negative/anti-hepatitis B core antibodies (anti-HBcAb)-positive patients. Between 11/2003 and 12/2005, HBV-R occurred in 7/84 HBsAg-negative/anti-HBcAb-positive patients treated for haematological or solid cancer. Virological factors including HBV genotype, core promoter, precore, and HBsAg genotypic and amino acid (aa) patterns were studied. Patients presenting with reactivation were men, had an hepatitis B virus surface antibody (HBsAb) titre <100 IU/L and underwent >1 line of chemotherapy (CT) significantly more frequently than controls. All were treated for haematological cancer, 3/7 received haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), and 4/7 received rituximab. Using multivariate analysis, receiving >1 line of CT was an independent risk factor for HBV-R. Fatal outcome occurred in 3/7 patients (despite lamivudine therapy in two), whereas 2/4 survivors had an HBsAg seroconversion. HBV-R involved non-A HBV genotypes and core promoter and/or precore HBV mutants in all cases. Mutations known to impair HBsAg antigenicity were detected in HBV DNA from all seven patients. HBV DNA could be retrospectively detected in two patients prior cancer treatment and despite HBsAg negativity. HBV-R is a concern in HBsAg-negative/anti-HBcAb-positive patients undergoing cancer therapy, especially in males presenting with haematological cancer, a low anti-HBsAb titre and more than one chemotherapeutic agent. HBV DNA testing is mandatory to improve diagnosis and management of HBV-R in these patients. The role of specific therapies such as rituximab or HSCT as well as of HBV aa variability deserves further studies.

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