Chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients with advanced fibrosis are often not considered for treatment with peginterferon (PEG-IFN) because IFN therapy may precipitate immunological flares, potentially inducing hepatic decompensation. We investigated the efficacy and safety of treating hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-positive CHB patients with 52 weeks of PEG-IFN-alpha-2b (100 microg weekly) alone or in combination with lamivudine (100 mg daily). Seventy patients with advanced fibrosis (Ishak fibrosis score 4-6) and 169 patients without advanced fibrosis, all with compensated liver disease, participated in the study. Virologic response, defined as HBeAg seroconversion and hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA < 10,000 copies/ml at week 78, occurred significantly more often in patients with advanced fibrosis than in those without (25% versus 12%, respectively; P = 0.02). Also patients with cirrhosis (n = 24) exhibited a virologic response more frequently than did patients without cirrhosis (30% versus 14%, respectively; P = 0.02). Improvement in liver fibrosis occurred more frequently in patients with advanced fibrosis (66% versus 26%, P < 0.001). HBV genotype A was more prevalent among patients with advanced fibrosis than among those without (57% versus 24%, P < 0.001). Most adverse events, including serious adverse events, were observed equally as frequently in patients with advanced fibrosis and those without. Fatigue, anorexia, and thrombocytopenia occurred more often in patients with advanced fibrosis than in those without (P < 0.01). Necessary dose reduction or discontinuation of therapy was comparable for both patient groups (P = 0.92 and P = 0.47, respectively).
Conclusion: PEG-IFN is effective and safe for HBeAg-positive patients with advanced fibrosis. Because PEG-IFN therapy results in a high rate of sustained off-therapy response, patients with advanced fibrosis or cirrhosis but compensated liver disease should not be excluded from PEG-IFN treatment.