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Cancer Health Center

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Hepatitis C Drug May Help Stop Liver Cancer Recurrence

WebMD Health News

May 30, 2001 -- There's new hope for those suffering from liver cancer. A drug commonly used to treat hepatitis C may help in the management of liver cancer caused by the hepatitis C virus.

The drug, called interferon alpha, appears to help prevent the return of liver cancer in people with hepatitis C who have had a tumor removed surgically, say researchers at Osaka City University Medical School in Japan. Their study was published in the May 15 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.

The hepatitis C virus is a major cause of chronic liver disease in the U.S. It accounts for about 20% of acute hepatitis cases, 60-70% of chronic hepatitis cases, and 30% of cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer cases.

Hepatitis C is often treated with a regimen of interferon alpha injections, but the drug has also been shown to decrease initial liver cancer in those with the disease.

Although liver cancer is usually treated with surgical removal of the tumor, recurrence of the cancer can occur. In fact, Shoji Kubo, MD, and colleagues say in their report that liver cancer is likely to recur following surgery in as many as 80% of people with hepatitis C-related liver cancer.

In the study, 15 people who had surgery to remove liver cancer stemming from infection with hepatitis C received injections of interferon alpha for a total of 88 weeks. Results were compared with those of a control group of 15 patients who underwent surgery but did not receive the drug.

The rate of recurrence was significantly lower among people treated with the drug. Five patients in the treated group had a recurrence, compared with 12 in the group that did not receive interferon alpha, according to the study.

Experts say that although the results are encouraging, the study was a small one that needs to be redone in larger clinical trials.

Thomas W. London, MD, senior member of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, notes that of the 15 patients treated with the interferon alpha therapy, only eight had a true remission of cancer based on biochemical tests of the liver. And of those, one patient did have a recurrence.

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