December 6, 2012
The widespread availability of potent combination anti-HIV therapy (commonly called ART or HAART) in Canada and other high-income countries has had a tremendous impact on the health of HIV-positive people. Deaths from AIDS-related infections are now less common. Furthermore, a young adult diagnosed with HIV today is expected to have a near-normal life span, provided that he or she is engaged in care and treatment and has minimal pre-existing health conditions.
Unfortunately, deaths continue to occur among HIV-positive people because of complications affecting different organ-systems. Some complications arise from co-infection with other viruses. For instance, because hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are spread in ways similar to HIV, a significant proportion of HIV-positive people are co-infected with these viruses.
Both HBV and HCV attack the liver, causing inflammation and the gradual replacement of healthy tissue with useless scar tissue. As the liver is slowly destroyed, serious complications affecting quality of life and the rest of the body occur. Infection with HBV or HCV can ultimately result in liver cancer and death. Being co-infected with HIV speeds up the pace of liver damage.
Reports from high-income countriesCanada, Denmark, France, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.suggest that complications arising from hepatitis co-infection are responsible for an increasing proportion of illness and death in the present era.
People with liver cancer may not have symptoms in the early stages. However, as the tumour grows, affected people may notice the following:
These symptoms are similar to those in people with other illnesses, so by themselves they are not definitive for liver cancer and medical investigation is necessary for people at high risk for liver cancer.
Therapy for liver cancer varies depending on the size and spread of the tumour(s). Potential interventions include the following:
In experiments with cells in the lab, the drug sorafenib (Nexavar) can block the growth and development of tumours. In Phase III trials in HIV-negative people with liver cancer, sorafenib was able to extend survival by an average of three months compared to placebo.
Researchers have found that people of Asian ethnicity do not respond as well to sorafenib as people of European descent.
There have been no large-scale clinical trials of sorafenib in people co-infected with HIV and HCV. In an attempt to partially remedy this situation, researchers in several Italian cancer centres collaborated in an analysis of sorafenib in HIV-positive people with liver cancer who were co-infected with HBV and/or HCV. They found that out of 27 participants, 50% were still alive a year after the initiation of sorafenib.
Researchers reviewed health-related data collected from 27 participants between 2003 and 2010. The average profile of participants when they began therapy with sorafenib was as follows:
The diagnosis of liver cancer was based on one of the following:
Sorafenib was prescribed at a dose of 400 mg taken orally twice daily. Treatment continued until the tumours grew or spread or until severe side effects occurred.
On average, the time between diagnosis of liver cancer and initiation of sorafenib was 31 months.
Participants were monitored for at least eight months after receiving sorafenib or until they died.
On average, 50% of participants survived for 13 months after initiation of sorafenib therapy.
Initially, 15 patients had tumours that responded to therapy. Specifically, in three cases the tumours shrank, while in 12 others they did not grow or spread to new locations.
However, tumours usually resumed growing or spreading an average of five months after sorafenib had been initiated.
Common side effects were as follows:
Severe side effects occurred in the following numbers of participants:
To manage side effects, doctors temporarily reduced the dose of sorafenib or temporarily suspended therapy.
Skin reactions were more likely to occur in participants with mild or moderate liver dysfunction.
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