Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a common, life-threatening complication of longstanding infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), likely a consequence of the direct oncogenic activity of the virus cooperating with liver cell inflammation in transforming the liver into a mitogenic and mutagenic environment. The achievement of a sustained virological response (SVR) to interferon-based therapies has been shown to benefit the course of hepatitis C in terms of reduced rates of liver-related complications and mortality from all causes. Interestingly, while achievement of an SVR is associated with a negligible risk of developing clinical decompensation over the years, the risk of HCC is not fully abrogated following HCV clearance, but it remains the dominant complication in all SVR populations. The factors accounting for such a residual risk of HCC in SVR patients are not fully understood, yet the persistence of the subverted architecture of the liver, diabetes and alcohol abuse are likely culprits. In the end, the risk of developing an HCC in SVR patients is attenuated by 75% compared to non-responders or untreated patients, whereas responders who develop an HCC may be stratified in different categories of HCC risk by a score based on the same demographic and liver disease-based variables, such as those that predict liver cancer in viremic patients. All in all, this prevents full understanding of those factors that drive HCC risk once HCV has been eradicated. Here, we critically review current understanding of HCC in SVR patients focusing on factors that predict residual risk of HCC among these patients and providing a glimpse of the expected benefits of new anti-HCV regimens based on direct antiviral agents.
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