Hepatitis C virus, tumour and liver transplantation

HCV virus exploding (iStock)

From my HPB highlights this month.

Do patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) on a background of hepatitis C virus (HCV) have worse outcomes after liver transplantation than non-HCV patients? This relatively straightforward question continues to vex and published studies are contradictory. Molecular features of HCC which are associated with aggressive behaviour are up-regulated in the presence of HCV, providing a biological mechanism to support the hypothesis. The theory is borne out in early single centre studies, but the largest published analysis using the United Network for Organ Sharing database published by Thuluvath in 2009 contradicted these. HCV+ patients were shown to have a lower survival rate than HCV- patients, regardless of their HCC status. This is to be expected. However, HCV had no additional negative impact on survival in patients with HCC

In this edition of HPB, Dumitra and colleagues describe a further single-centre study from Montreal. They conclude that HCC+/HCV+ patients have a significantly worse outcome than those with HCC or HCV alone. So why the contradiction? It may be that length of follow-up is important. This study provides survival curves out to 10 years. A cluster of deaths after 5 years in the HCV+/HCC+ group results in a significantly worse outcome in this group, although the number-at-risk are low. However, loss to follow-up is an unusually low 1.2% and explant pathology is available for almost all patients – detail not often available in studies using administrative databases. In a multivariable analysis controlling for recipient age, gender, MELD score and donor risk index (DRI), the combined effect of HCC+/HCV+ gives a hazard twice that of HCC+/HCV-.

HCV graft infection after liver transplantation is universal and the course of recurrent cirrhosis accelerated. Controlling HCV recurrence with newer antiviral agents will improve long-term survival and this study suggests the possibility of additional benefits in HCC+/HCV+ patients. Other modifiable variables such as donor age and DRI are unlikely to have an impact, given HCC patients rarely have the luxury of a wide choice of donor grafts.