Combination Drug Treatment for Hepatitis C May Be Better than ‘Watchful Waiting’ Protocol, Study Says
Treating mild cases of hepatitis C with combination drug therapy may be "more likely to prolong life and prevent complications such as cirrhosis," and may be a more cost-effective strategy than "watchful waiting," according to a new study. Study leader Dr. John Wong and researchers from the Boston-based New England Medical Center analyzed the outcome of different treatment strategies for hepatitis C. Wong explained that combination drug therapy with interferon and ribavirin may help treat the infection, but does not clear the virus in all people and can cause "unpleasant" side effects. On the other hand, delaying treatment and adopting a "watchful waiting" approach, which requires a patient to undergo repeated liver biopsies to keep track of their disease status, carries a "small but real" risk of complications. Researchers investigated the long-term effects of both approaches, and estimated that over the course of 20 years, the risk of cirrhosis for patients undergoing periodic biopsies would be 18%, 16% among those treated immediately and 27% in those who received no treatment. The results suggest that "beginning treatment immediately would extend the life expectancy of a person with mild hepatitis C by an average of one year compared to someone who underwent regular biopsies instead." But Wong and colleagues add that "there is a need to find an inexpensive, noninvasive way to evaluate liver tissue and to predict which people with hepatitis C are most likely to become ill." The study was funded by Schering-Plough, which manufactures drugs used to treat hepatitis C (Reuters Health, 11/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.