News Release

PHILADELPHIA – While the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) – primary liver cancer – is higher among patients who have HIV, it’s even higher among patients who have HIV and detectable hepatitis B, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Among participants with HIV and hepatitis B, suppressing detectable hepatitis B infection with the use of antiretroviral therapy cut the risk of developing HCC by 58 percent. These findings suggest that the best care for individuals with HIV and detectable hepatitis B includes sustained hepatitis B suppression with antiretroviral therapy in order to cut the risk of developing HCC. The study is published in the journal Hepatology.

HCC affects approximately 25,000 people each year in the United States and is considered a very aggressive type of cancer. Internationally and in the United States, chronic hepatitis B is a leading cause of HCC through direct and indirect effects on the liver. Additionally, chronic hepatitis B is common among patients who have HIV.

In order to study the predictors of HCC among people co-infected with HIV and chronic hepatitis B, the researchers used data from the North American AIDS Cohort Collaboration on Research and Design, which contains health information spanning two decades. The study population included data from over 8,000 people co-infected with HIV and chronic hepatitis B. Those with detectable HIV and detectable hepatitis B had a higher likelihood of developing HCC compared to those who had both viruses suppressed. Antiretroviral treatment for chronic hepatitis B reduced the risk of developing HCC, and the risk dropped substantially when hepatitis B viremia was suppressed to undetectable levels and when the viral suppression lasted at least a year.

“Most HIV providers do not regularly monitor hepatitis B viral load in practice, even while on antiretroviral treatment,” said senior author Vincent Lo Re III, MD, MSCE, an associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Penn Medicine. “Our data highlight the importance of regular assessment of hepatitis B viral load and achievement of hepatitis B suppression during antiretroviral therapy in people with HIV and chronic hepatitis B coinfection.” In addition, maintaining adherence can be a challenge for certain patients depending on their overall health and other factors. “This study highlights the importance of testing and regular care for HIV and chronic hepatitis B co-infected individuals as well as the value of programs and strategies that help co-infected individuals maximize antiretroviral adherence to achieve hepatitis B viral suppression.”

According to Dr. Lo Re and his team, including lead author H. Nina Kim, MD, MSc, an associate professor of medicine at University of Washington, heavy alcohol use and coinfection with hepatitis C were also associated with an increased risk of HCC among individuals with HIV and chronic hepatitis B co-infection. The study authors advise that reducing excessive drinking and using direct-acting antiviral therapy targeted to chronic hepatitis C infection could also help to lower the risk of liver cancer in dually infected people.

The study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R21-AI124868).


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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