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Keywords:

  • chronic hepatitis C;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • interferon therapy;
  • multivariate analysis;
  • occult HBV infection;
  • risk factor

Aim:  Recent studies have suggested that an occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection negative for HBsAg but positive for HBV-DNA contributes to hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Some follow-up studies have suggested the clinical importance of occult HBV infections in HCC development even after interferon (IFN) therapy, but a recent study denies the significance of the impact of occult HBV infection. Focusing on HCC development in patients in whom hepatitis C virus (HCV) eradication by interferon (IFN) therapy had failed, we conducted this study in order to assess the impact of occult HBV infections on HCC development in these patients.

Methods:  We enrolled 141 patients with chronic hepatitis C (histological stage F2 or F3) who were seropositive for HCV-RNA even after IFN therapy. Serum HBV-DNA was assayed using the real-time polymerase chain reaction. During follow-up, ultrasonography and/or computed tomography (CT) were performed at least every 6 months to monitor HCC development.

Results:  The cumulative incidence rates of HCC were 8.9%, 25.7% and 53.7% at 5 years, 10 years and 15 years, respectively, after IFN therapy. Multivariate analysis indicated that low platelet counts (<12 × 104/mm3), occult HBV infection, high ALT levels (≥80 IU/L) after IFN therapy and the staging of liver fibrosis were important independent factors affecting the appearance of HCC.

Conclusions:  Occult HBV was a risk factor for HCC development in patients with chronic hepatitis C in whom HCV eradication had failed. Therefore, patients with chronic hepatitis C with occult HBV should be monitored carefully for HCC after IFN therapy.