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Hepatitis C Drug May Help Stop Liver Cancer Recurrence

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Moreover, the follow-up time in the study -- which averaged just under three years for the patients who received the therapy -- may not be long enough to say for certain those patients are cured. "The study authors think the people who did not get a recurrence are cured, but there is no way to know that," London tells WebMD.

So ultimately, the therapy may be only delaying recurrence, although that in itself would be a valuable finding, London says.

In any case, the number of patients who would actually be candidates for interferon alpha following surgery would likely be small. In general, people with hepatitis C-related liver cancer have been living with a damaged liver for a long time and may have incurred extensive damage that will make surgery difficult or impossible or could make them unable to tolerate the drug, London tells WebMD.

"This would be a select group of patients who have a liver tumor related to hepatitis C that is [surgically removable] and whose underlying liver disease is not so bad that they couldn't tolerate interferon," he says.

In the U.S., many of those patients might also be candidates for liver transplant -- assuming a transplantable liver is available.

"Surgery is often difficult in these people if their underlying liver function is compromised," London says. "The surgery just removes the tumor. Even if you could take out their tumor, they aren't going to do very well."

A number of other strategies -- such as killing liver tumors with radio frequency waves or injecting them with alcohol -- have also found good results in Japan, where the incidence of hepatitis C-related liver cancer is greater than in the U.S. London says there is no reason interferon alpha wouldn't work to prevent recurrence after such procedures as well, although it remains to be shown in clinical trials.

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