The effect of interferon on the long-term clinical outcome of patients with chronic hepatitis C remains unclear. This study included 594 patients with chronic hepatitis C who received interferon-alpha therapy (Interferon group) and 144 patients with chronic hepatitis C who did not receive interferon (Control group). The patients in the Interferon group were classified into the following three groups based on the response of the serum aminotransaminase level of the patient during and after completion of the therapy protocol: sustained responders (n = 175), transient responders (n = 165), and non-responders (n = 254). The age, sex, serum aminotransaminase level, platelet count, histological staging, hepatitis C virus (HCV) subtype, and HCV concentration at baseline were adjusted with the Cox proportional hazards model. The length of follow-up for assessment of the risk for developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) was 57.2 +/- 13.9 months in the Interferon group and 67.7 +/- 28.7 months in the Control group. Multivariate analysis showed that interferon therapy decreased the risk for developing HCC by 48% compared with that in the Control group (P = 0.064). The older the age, being male, having a low platelet count, and higher histological stage were independent factors associated with the development of HCC. The hazard rate ratio for development of HCC in the sustained responders, transient responders, and non-responders was 0.16 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.04-0.62), 0.27 (95% CI: 0. 09-0.79), and 0.74 (95% CI: 0.37-1.48), respectively. During follow-up, 18 patients in the Interferon group died (10 from liver-related diseases) and 17 patients in the Control group died (10 from liver-related diseases). No sustained responder or transient responder in the Interferon group died of liver-related disease. The cumulative survival rates of the Interferon and Control groups were nearly identical during the first 5 years following diagnosis. Thereafter, the cumulative survival rate of the Control group declined, resulting in an 8-year survival rate in the Interferon and Control groups of 97% and 81%, respectively (P = 0. 061). Similar trends were seen in the survival analysis of those who had died of liver disease: the 8-year survival rates of the Interferon and Control groups were 98% and 88%, respectively (P = 0. 32). Our study demonstrated that interferon therapy significantly lowered the incidence of HCC among patients with chronic hepatitis C who showed sustained normalization and among patients who showed transient normalization of the serum aminotransferase level after completion of interferon therapy. The survival analyses and determination of cause of death suggested that interferon therapy improves the long-term survival of chronic hepatitis C patients who respond to this therapy, possibly by decreasing mortality from liver-related diseases.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.