Previous exposure to hepatitis B virus (HBV) may increase the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in patients with chronic hepatitis C. We aim to study the impact of previous HBV infection on the severity and outcomes of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
This was a multicenter study of 489 patients with biopsy-proven NAFLD and 69 patients with NAFLD-related or cryptogenic HCC. Antihepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc) was used to detect the previous HBV infection.
In the biopsy cohort, positive anti-HBc was associated with lower steatosis grade but higher fibrosis stage. 18.8% and 7.5% of patients with positive and negative anti-HBc had cirrhosis, respectively (P < 0.001). The association between anti-HBc and cirrhosis remained significant after adjusting for age and metabolic factors (adjusted odds ratio 2.232; 95% confidence interval, 1.202–4.147). At a mean follow-up of 6.2 years, patients with positive anti-HBc had a higher incidence of HCC or cirrhotic complications (6.5% vs 2.2%; P = 0.039). Among patients with NAFLD-related or cryptogenic HCC, 73.9% had positive anti-HBc. None of the patients had positive serum HBV DNA. By contrast, antihepatitis B surface antibody did not correlate with histological severity.
Positive anti-HBc is associated with cirrhosis and possibly HCC and cirrhotic complications in patients with NAFLD. Because a significant proportion of NAFLD-related HCC may develop in noncirrhotic patients, future studies should define the role of anti-HBc in selecting noncirrhotic patients with NAFLD for HCC surveillance.