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Cancer. 2006 Mar 15;106(6):1326-30.

Occult hepatitis B virus infection is associated with the development of hepatocellular carcinoma in chronic hepatitis C patients.

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Unit of Clinical and Molecular Hepatology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Messina, 98124 Messina, Italy.



Occult hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection frequently occurs in patients with HBV surface antigen (HBsAg)-negative chronic liver disease, and much evidence suggests that it is a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development. However, to the authors' knowledge, no follow-up study has been performed to date evaluating HCC occurrence over time in chronic hepatitis patients with or without occult HBV infection.


A cohort of the 380 HBsAg-negative chronic hepatitis patients attending the study institution between 1991-2000 were evaluated and tested for occult HBV DNA by analysis of liver biopsy specimens.


There were 135 patients (35.5%) with occult HBV and 245 patients (64.5%) without occult HBV. Cirrhosis was significantly associated with occult HBV infection (P = 0.01). One hundred thirty-four of these patients were followed for a minimum of 50 months (median, 82.8 +/- 32.6 mos). Fifty-three patients (39%) were occult HBV carriers and 81 (61%) were not. Nine patients developed HCC during the follow-up; eight were positive and one was negative for occult HBV (P = 0.002).


The current observational cohort study showed that, among the HBsAg-negative patients with chronic hepatitis, HCC develops for the most part in carriers of occult HBV. Therefore, the evaluation of HBV genomes in chronic hepatitis patients appears to be a powerful tool for the identification of individuals at higher risk of HCC development.

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