Background: Although there have been many seroepidemiologic studies on hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) occurrence, the actual role of HCV in hepatocarcinogenesis is unknown.
Methods: We have previously reported on a highly sensitive method of detecting and identifying sequences of RNA genome in formalin fixed, paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay. Using this method, we carried out a retrospective study to determine the prevalence of HCV and hepatitis B virus (HBV) genomes in FFPE specimens from 102 Japanese patients with HCC.
Results: HCV-RNA was detected by nested PCR reverse transcription (RT) in 64 of the 102 patients (62.7%), and 78.1% (50/64) of those HCV-RNA-positive patients had HCV genotype II. HCV-RNA was present in 54 of 70 (77.1%) anti-HCV-positive patients, and also in 5 of 20 (25%) anti-HCV-negative patients. HBV-DNA was detected by nested PCR in FFPE liver specimens from 21 of 102 (20.6%) patients. HBV-DNA positivity was consistent with seropositivity for serum HBV markers in 17 of these 21 patients (80.9%). HBV-DNA was present in FFPE samples from 2 patients who were seronegative for HBV markers, and in 1 patient who was seropositive for anti-HBs. Double infection of these two viruses was found in 6 patients (5.9%). Three patients (2.9%) were negative for both hepatic viral genomes and serum viral markers.
Conclusions: The precise prevalence of HCV and/or HBV infection among HCC patients can be determined by studying routinely-processed FFPE HCC samples preserved for up to 11 years using the technique of nested PCR. HCV-RNA was detected in the majority of our HCC cases; type II was the most common genotype of HCV encountered. The incidence of HCV-associated HCC was three times greater than that of HBV. Thus, the hepatitis virus infection most frequently associated, and probably ectologically implicated, with HCC in Japanese people is HCV infection.