Background/Aims: The immune-tolerant (IT) phase of chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients is not generally indicative of antiviral therapy (AVT). We assessed and compared the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) during the IT-phase stringently defined by a low fibrosis-4 (FIB-4) index, compared to that in patients undergoing AVT. Methods: Among 125 untreated patients that were hepatitis B e-antigen positive, hepatitis B virus-DNA >20,000 IU/mL, with normal alanine aminotransferase level from 2012 to 2018, those with a FIB-4 index of <1.45 were classified into the IT-group. The cumulative probability of HCC was estimated using Kaplan-Meier analysis. All patients were assessed until HCC development (intention-to-treat [ITT] analysis), whereas those suspected of experiencing CHB phase switch were assessed using the per-protocol (PP) and censored at the time of phase switch. Results: The cumulative probability of HCC at 1-, 3-, and 5-years among the IT-group was zero, compared to AVT-treated patients with FIB-4 indices <1.45 during the same period: 0.2%, 0.6%, and 1.4%, respectively (P=0.264 for ITT and P=0.533 for PP). Among the initially screened 125 untreated patients, those with a FIB-4 index of ≥1.45 had a higher risk of HCC compared to the IT-group (P=0.005). Furthermore, among AVT-treated patients, those with a FIB-4 index of ≥1.45 had a higher risk of HCC compared to their counterpart (P<0.001). Conclusions: The risk of HCC was negligible in the IT-group stringently defined by a low FIB-4 index. However, given that a higher HCC risk exists among untreated patients with higher FIB-4, appropriate criteria for AVT should be established. (Clin Mol Hepatol 2021;27:295-304).
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIT) (No. 2019R1A2C4070136). The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
© 2021 by Korean Association for the Study of the Liver.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology