Chronic hepatitis C virus infection can cause chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. The Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-term Treatment against Cirrhosis (HALT-C) Trial was a prospective, randomized controlled study of long-term, low-dose peginterferon therapy in patients with advanced chronic hepatitis C who failed to respond to a previous course of optimal antiviral therapy. The aim of this follow-up analysis is to describe the frequency and causes of death among this cohort of patients. Deaths occurring during and after the HALT-C Trial were reviewed by a committee of investigators to determine the cause of death and to categorize each death as liver- or nonliver-related and as related or not to complications of peginterferon. Rates of liver transplantation were also assessed. Over a median of 5.7 years, 122 deaths occurred among 1,050 randomized patients (12%), of which 76 were considered liver-related (62%) and 46 nonliver-related (38%); 74 patients (7%) underwent liver transplantation. At 7 years the cumulative mortality rate was higher in the treatment compared to the control group (20% versus 15%, P = 0.049); the primary difference in mortality was in patients in the fibrosis compared to the cirrhosis stratum (14% versus 7%, P = 0.01); comparable differences were observed when liver transplantation was included. Excess mortality, emerging after 3 years of treatment, was related largely to nonliver-related death; liver-related mortality was similar in the treatment and control groups. No specific cause of death accounted for the excess mortality and only one death was suspected to be a direct complication of peginterferon. Conclusion: Long-term maintenance peginterferon in patients with advanced chronic hepatitis C is associated with an excess overall mortality, which was primarily due to nonliver-related causes among patients with bridging fibrosis.
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