Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-positive kidney transplant recipients have increased liver-related mortality. The impact of lamivudine treatment on patient survival, the optimal time to start treatment, and the feasibility of discontinuing treatment have not been determined. This study examined these issues with a novel management protocol. Serum hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA levels were measured serially in HBsAg-positive kidney transplant recipients, and lamivudine was administered preemptively to patients with increasing HBV DNA levels with or without elevation of aminotransferase levels. Outcomes of patients who underwent transplantation before or after institution of this preemptive management strategy (in January 1996) were compared. Eleven de novo patients (91.7%) who underwent transplantation between 1996 and 2000 and 15 existing patients (39.5%) who underwent transplantation between 1983 and 1995 received preemptive lamivudine therapy for 32.6 +/- 13.3 months. The treatment criteria were met by de novo patients at 8.4 +/- 6.2 months (range, 1-18 months) after transplantation. Suppression of HBV DNA and normalization of aminotransferase levels were achieved in all treated patients, and 21.4% had hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) seroconversion. The survival of preemptively managed de novo transplant patients was similar to that of HBsAg-negative controls, whereas HBsAg-positive patients who underwent transplantation before January 1996 had inferior survival (relative risk of death, 9.7 [P <.001]; relative risk of liver-related mortality, 68.0 [P <.0001]). Eleven patients (40.7%) developed lamivudine resistance. Discontinuation of lamivudine was attempted in 12 low-risk patients after stabilization and was successful in 5 (41.7%). In conclusion, preemptive lamivudine therapy based on serial HBV DNA levels and clinical monitoring improved the survival of HBsAg-positive renal allograft recipients. Treatment can be discontinued safely in selected patients after stabilization to minimize the selection of drug-resistant HBV mutants.