The recent advent of new treatments for hepatitis C prompted organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, and the World Health Organization to recommend expanded hepatitis C screening, but such screening may be premature, according to a subject analysis.
Too much uncertainty exists regarding the validity of surrogate markers for treatment efficacy that were used in trials, and evidence regarding clinical outcomes and screening strategies is lacking, according to Dr. Ronald L. Koretz of the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues, who evaluated the current understanding of the incidence and natural course of hepatitis C infection, treatment efficacy, and potential harms of treatment for their analysis.
The best available data suggest that 80%-85% of patients with chronic hepatitis C will die of nonhepatic causes; thus screening could lead to unnecessary treatment. This is important, as safety data for newer drugs are limited, and the existing data suggest a small but concerning rate of serious adverse events associated with the use of some treatments and treatment regimens; the risk-benefit profile of treatment cannot be adequately evaluated because of the lack of data regarding treatment benefits, the investigators reported online Jan. 13 in the British Medical Journal ([ doi:10.10036/bmj.g7809 ]).
Clinical trials to determine the outcomes of treatment in screen-detected patients, as well as the long-term hazards of treatment, are needed, they said, noting that currently available trials included small numbers of patients and/or only short-term follow-up. Until data from such trials are available, physicians should not be pressured to enforce recommended screening strategies “out of enthusiasm for new treatments that have not yet been shown to cause long-term clinical improvement,” they concluded.
Dr. Koretz is a member of the editorial board of the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group. The authors reported having no other financial conflicts.