Background: Interferon (IFN) improves hepatic inflammation/fibrosis and reduces the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in patients with chronic hepatitis C (CH-C). However, HCC develops in some patients who have a sustained virological response (SVR) to IFN therapy. We designed this study to establish a follow-up protocol for patients with CH-C who have SVR to IFN therapy.
Methods: We retrospectively studied 1124 patients with CH-C who received IFN.
Results: HCC developed in 3.5% of patients with SVR to IFN. As compared with SVR patients without HCC, SVR patients with HCC were predominantly male (P=0.003), older at the initiation of IFN therapy (P=0.002), and at a more advanced histologic stage of disease (P<0.001). However, three of the 13 SVR HCC patients had mild fibrosis. The mean interval from IFN therapy to the detection of HCC in SVR HCC patients was 5.8 years and did not differ significantly from that in non-SVR HCC patients (P=0.304). Although most patients with HCC received curative therapy, the prognosis of some SVR HCC patients was poor, probably because of insufficient follow-up, resulting in delayed detection of HCC.
Conclusions: SVR patients with CH-C who are elderly, male, or have an advanced histologic stage are at a high risk for the development of HCC after IFN therapy. We recommend that SVR patients should be observed carefully for more than 10 years after the completion of IFN therapy, even if they only have early fibrosis.