Liver cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in many regions of the world. With the goal to discover biomarkers that reflect subsets of high-risk individuals and their prognosis, we nested our study in a male cohort of 5,581 hepatitis B surface antigen carriers in Qidong, People's Republic of China, who were recruited starting in 1989. By December 2003, 667 liver cancer cases were diagnosed in this group and plasma samples collected at the initial screening at enrollment were available in 515 cases who had succumbed to liver cancer. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA could be isolated in 355 (69%) of these samples. In 14%, 15%, 19%, 31%, and 22%, screening took place at V1.5, 1.51 to 3, 3.01 to 5, 5.01 to 9, and >9 years before death, respectively; and 39% died at age below 45 years. The relation between mutations in HBV and time to death were determined by logistic regression for the odds of mutation and by survival analyses methods with age as the time scale. In 279 (79%) of these individuals, the samples contained a two-nucleotide 1762T/1764A HBV mutation. Sixteen samples lacking the 1762T/1764A mutation had novelmutations elsewhere in the 1761 to 1767 region of the HBV genome. There was a statistically significant difference (P = 0.012) for the high prevalence of the HBV mutations in the men who died from hepatocellular carcinoma under the age of 45 years relative to those who died after 55 years of age and HBV mutations accelerated death (relative hazard, 1.40; 95% confidence interval, 1.06-1.85) and that the effect was attenuated by age from 2.04 for age 35 years to 1.0 for age 65 years with the 90% confidence band being above 1 for ages <50 years. These findings provide a conceptualframework to explain the acceleration of mortality in individuals infected with HBV.
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