Background: Elevated serum hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA increases the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Rather than instantaneous DNA level, the duration of persistent HBV replication is more important in carcinogenesis. Nevertheless, most investigators evaluated the DNA level at study entry. We assessed the effects of persistently detectable serum HBV DNA on HCC recurrence.
Patients and methods: We included 230 consecutive patients undergoing curative resection between 2000 and 2006. Patients who had antiviral therapy (at diagnosis or during follow-up), fluctuating DNA (cut-off value: 100 000 copies/ml) or recurrence within 12 months of resection were excluded. Ultimately, 157 were enrolled: 89 (non-viraemia group) had consistently negative DNA (<100 000 copies/ml), while 68 (viraemia group) had consistently positive DNA (>100 000copies/ml). Serum DNA level, biochemical tests, α-foetoprotein (AFP) and liver dynamic computed tomography were obtained every 3 months after surgery.
Results: There were no significant differences in age, gender, liver function, histology, AFP, tumour stages or follow-up duration between the two groups. During follow-up (median: 35 months), patients in the non-viraemia group had a lower 5-year cumulative recurrence rate (54.7%) than those in the viraemia group (72.9%; P=0.043). In multivariate analysis, sustained viraemia (P=0.041) increased recurrence independently.
Conclusions: Persistent viraemia increased recurrence independently after surgery. To prevent long-term recurrences, antiviral therapy should be initiated in those with detectable serum HBV DNA.