Background: The long-term benefit for chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients treated with interferon (IFN)/ribavirin (RBV) combination therapy remains unclear. We aimed to evaluate the long-term effects of IFN monotherapy and IFN/RBV combination therapy on reducing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and mortality in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, adjusting for risk factors.
Methods: A total of 1,619 patients with biopsy-proven CHC, including 1,057 receiving IFN-based therapy (760 on IFN/RBV combination therapy) and 562 untreated controls from three medical centres and one regional core hospital in Taiwan were enrolled in this retrospective-prospective cohort study.
Results: The incidence of HCC and survival during a follow-up period of 1.0-15.3 (mean 5.18) and 1-16 (mean 5.15) years in treated and untreated patients, respectively, was analysed using Cox proportional hazards regression. The cumulative incidence of HCC was 35.2% and 12.2% for untreated and treated groups, respectively (P=0.0013). The cumulative survival rate was 93.1% and 96.2% for untreated and treated groups, respectively (P=0.3928). Significantly lower incidences of HCC and mortality were observed in sustained virological responders (both for IFN monotherapy and IFN/RBV combination) but not in nonresponders when compared with untreated patients. HCV genotype 1 patients had significantly higher incidences of HCC than genotype non-1 patients. In multivariate analysis, pre-existing cirrhosis, non-response, HCV genotype-1 and age were associated with HCC; pre-existing cirrhosis and non-response correlated to mortality.
Conclusion: A sustained virological response secondary to IFN monotherapy or IFN/RBV combination therapy could reduce the risk for HCC and improve survival of CHC patients.