July 8, 2009

Can Hepatitis B Virus Cause Liver Cancer?

Certain genetic mutations in the hepatitis B virus (HBV) may help predict which patients with HBV infections are at increased risk of developing liver cancer, according to a large study conducted in Shanghai.

HBV infection is a known cause of the most common form of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). There have been previous studies into whether patients with specific mutations in the DNA of the hepatitis B virus may be at increased risk of developing liver cancer, but the studies were small and they produced conflicting results.

Recently, Guangwen Cao, M.D., Ph.D., of the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai and colleagues analyzed 43 studies with a total of 11,582 HBV-infected participants, of whom 2,801 had HCC.  The researchers confirmed that certain viral DNA mutations were associated with development of HCC. Researchers noted that genetic viral mutations became more prevalent as chronic HBV infection progressed from the asymptomatic state to liver cirrhosis or HCC.

"Frequent examination of patients with chronic HBV infections for the presence of these mutations may be useful for identifying which patients require preventive antiviral treatment and for the prediction of HCC," the authors wrote in a press release.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, July 2, 2009