News from Hepatitis Week of March 2, 2003 / Vol. 3 No. 09

Study: Interferon Improves Survival for Hepatitis C Patients with Liver Cancer

The addition of interferon to repeated alcohol injections appears to improve survival time for hepatitis C patients who have liver cancer and lessen recurrences, according to a study reported in the Feb. 18 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Interferon has previously been shown to reduce hepatitis C patients' risk of developing liver cancer. For those who already have liver cancer, a common treatment involves injecting alcohol into cancerous nodules. Although the alcohol kills the tumor cells, the cancer tends to come back.

In this study, University of Tokyo researchers sought to determine whether treatment with interferon along with the alcohol injections would be a better treatment option for liver cancer in such patients.

The researchers studied 49 patients who were mildly infected with the hepatitis C virus and who had three or fewer live cancer nodules that had already been treated once with alcohol injections.

Two thirds of the patients received treatment with interferon as well as alcohol injections, while one third received alcohol injections without interferon.

The researchers evaluated both groups to determine the timing of cancer recurrence and to see if survival rates differed between the groups. They also evaluated evidence for continued hepatitis C virus infection with and without interferon treatment.

Although the time to the first recurrence of liver cancer did not differ in the two groups, second and third recurrences were less frequent in the patients receiving interferon. Five years after initial treatment, 68 percent of the interferon-treated patients were alive compared with 48 percent of the untreated patients. At seven years, 53 percent of the interferon-treated group was alive compared with 23 percent of the untreated patients. Continuing hepatitis C virus infection was greatly reduced in patients who received interferon, but the virus persisted in all patients who did not receive interferon.

Other sources: Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 138 Number 4, 299-306