During the natural course of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, the long-term clinical and histological outcomes following spontaneous hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) seroclearance remain unclear. Between 1984 and 2003, 49 (9.5%) out of 432 inactive HBsAg carriers had no detectable level of circulating HBsAg. Fifteen of 49 patients had undergone paired peritoneoscopic liver biopsies. During a mean follow-up period of 19.6 months after HBsAg seroclearance, 5 of 49 (10.2%) patients were noted to have HCC. Liver cirrhosis (P=0.040), a history of perinatal infection (P=0.005) and long-standing duration (at least 30 years) of HBsAg positivity (P=0.002) were associated with a significantly higher risk of developing HCC. Despite HBsAg seroclearance, HBV DNA was detected in the liver tissues from all 15 patients who underwent paired liver biopsies. Necroinflammation was significantly ameliorated (P<0.0001). On the other hand, amelioration of the fibrosis score did not reach a statistically significant level (P=0.072). Interestingly, aggravation of liver fibrosis was evident in 2 patients (13.3%) including one who had rapidly progressed to overt cirrhosis. In patients with spontaneous HBsAg seroclearance, necroinflammation was markedly improved and liver fibrosis was unchanged or regressed despite occult HBV infection. However, HCC developed in a minority of cases.
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