Researchers from The University of Hong Kong (HKU)'s Department of Medicine recently announced findings of their study on the effect of hepatitis B virus (HBV) treatment on liver cancer.

To study the treatment effect, the research team obtained data of 14-year (from 1999 to 2012) HBV treatment trends in specialist out-patient clinics from the Hospital Authority. The team also studied the effect of treatment in specific age groups.

Preventive effect of HBV treatment in elderly age group is diminished

While the research team finds that HBV treatment is associated with a reduction in overall liver cancer incidence, the effect is the most obvious among the age group of 55-64 years. The liver cancer incidence is reduced by 24% among men who received HBV treatment in the age group of 55-64 years and reduced by 8.5% among women who received HBV treatment in the same age group. Researchers suggest a high treatment prescription rate and high clinic attendance rate among this age group might be the reasons behind.

On the other hand, the preventive effect of HBV treatment in the elderly age group (≥65 years) is diminished. Researchers explain this might be because drug prescription rates and clinic attendance rates among the elderly population are lower.

As the effectiveness of HBV treatment in reducing the burden of liver cancer is confirmed, researchers encourage HBV-infected patients to receive long-term follow-up and receive treatment when necessary.

Additionally, given the low rates of clinic attendance and treatment prescription among the elderly population, researchers recommend strengthening community outreach to elderly HBV-infected individuals in order to further reduce liver cancer incidence rates.

Professor Richard Man-fung Yuen. Photo credit: Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong
Professor Richard Man-fung Yuen. Photo credit: Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong

“The HKU study confirms that HBV treatment can reduce liver cancer incidence rate. Through strengthened community outreach, there will be a better control in liver cancer incidence in Hong Kong,” says Professor Richard Man-fung Yuen, Chair Professor of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at HKU.

80% of liver cancer death cases are related to HBV

Currently, there are approximately 560,000 patients, which equal to around 8% of the Hong Kong population, infected with HBV. Patients who are infected with HBV will become chronic carriers if there is no early detection of the virus. As most HBV carriers are asymptomatic, most patients are not diagnosed until hepatitis B develops into cirrhosis and liver cancer. This results in over 1,500 patients die of liver cancer every year in Hong Kong, as around 80% of the death cases are related to HBV.

Yet, generally speaking, Hepatitis B can be monitored through regular check-up if the level of activity of HBV is low. If the HBV level of activity is high and elevated liver enzymes occur, HBV treatment may be considered. MIMS

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