OBJECTIVE: To investigate the clinical efficacy of adjuvant interferon alfa-2b (IFNα-2b) therapy on recurrence-free survival (RFS) of patients with postoperative viral hepatitis-related hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). BACKGROUND: Despite most individual trials have failed to meet their primary endpoint, recent pooled-data meta-analyses suggest that adjuvant IFN therapy may significantly reduce the incidence of recurrence in curatively ablated HCC. METHODS: Patients with curative resection of viral hepatitis-related HCC were eligible, and were stratified by underlying viral etiology and randomly allocated to receive either 53 weeks of adjuvant IFNα-2b treatment or observation alone. The primary endpoint of this study was RFS. RESULTS: A total of 268 patients were enrolled with 133 in the IFNα-2b arm and 135 in the control arm. Eighty percent of them were hepatitis B surface antigen seropositive. At a median follow-up of 63.8 months, 154 (57.5%) patients had tumor recurrence and 84 (31.3%) were deceased. The cumulative 5-year recurrence-free and overall survival rates of intent-to-treat cohort were 44.2% and 73.9%, respectively. The median RFS in the IFNα-2b and control arms were 42.2 (95% confidence interval [CI], 28.1-87.1) and 48.6 (95% CI, 25.5 to infinity) months, respectively (P = 0.828, log-rank test). Adjuvant IFNα-2b treatment was associated with a significantly higher incidence of leucopenia and thrombocytopenia. Thirty-four (24.8%) of treated patients required dose reduction, and 5 (3.8%) of these patients subsequently withdrew from therapy because of excessive toxicity. Adjuvant IFNα-2b only temporarily suppressed viral replication during treatment period. CONCLUSIONS: In this study, adjuvant IFNα-2b did not reduce the postoperative recurrence of viral hepatitis-related HCC. More potent antiviral therapy deserves to be explored for this patient population. This study is registered at ClinicalTrials.gov and carries the identifier NCT00149565.
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