Background/aims: Assessment of chronic hepatitis C outcome in sustained responders to interferon requires prolonged observation and close monitoring. We prospectively studied the impact of sustained response on histology and clinically relevant outcomes.
Methods: The 47 sustained responders (ten with cirrhosis) from two interferon trials involving 235 chronic hepatitis C patients (81 with cirrhosis) were included. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA was assessed every 6 months, liver histological changes from baseline, 6-12 and 48-72 months after treatment discontinuation.
Results: The mean follow-up was 102 +/- 19 months. HCV RNA became undetectable in 36/47 responders. Four responders, who had remained viremic, later relapsed. The histology progressively improved in non-viremic and viremic patients, with a more marked improvement in the former (P = 0.0089), normalizing in 53 vs. 0% (P = 0.0220). No patient progressed to cirrhosis. One non-viremic cirrhotic patient developed a hepatocellular carcinoma. Non-responders from the two original trials had worse histological outcomes and those with cirrhosis had a higher rate of clinically relevant events compared with cirrhotics showing a sustained biochemical response (4.5 vs. 1.2 cases/100 person-years; CI for the difference, 0.3-6.3).
Conclusions: Most sustained, virological responders without cirrhosis normalize liver histology in the long-term and are cured of the disease. Sustained responders remaining viremic still show histological improvement, albeit to a lesser extent.