BACKGROUND & AIMS:
Esophageal varices (EV) are a marker of disease severity in compensated cirrhosis due to hepatitis B virus (HBV) which predicts also the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), clinical decompensation and anticipated liver related death. The dynamics and prognostic significance of EV in patients under long-term HBV suppression by nucleos(t)ide analogs (NUC), are poorly known.
A standardized protocol (Baveno) including 414 upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopies was applied to 107 HBeAg-negative compensated cirrhotic patients (93% Child-Pugh A) during a median of 12 (range 2 to 17) years of NUC therapy. Patients who initially started on lamivudine (LMV) and then developed resistance (LMV-R), were rescued by early administration of adefovir, or were switched to tenofovir. Surveillance included serum HBV DNA every three months and abdominal ultrasound every six months.
Twenty-seven patients had baseline F1 EV which regressed in 18, remained unchanged in eight and progressed in one patient; the 12-year cumulative incidence of EV regression was 83% (95% CI: 52-92%). De novo F1/F2 EV developed in 6/80 patients with a 12-year cumulative incidence of 10% (95% CI: 5-20%). Six of seven patients with de novo varices or progression of pre-existing varices had either a clinical breakthrough due to LMV-R and/or developed a HCC. No bleedings from ruptured EV occurred, 12 patients died (9 HCC) and 15 were transplanted (13 HCC): the 12-year cumulative incidence of HCC and overall survival was 33% (95% CI: 24-42%) and 76% (95% CI: 67-83%), respectively.
Long-term pharmacological suppression of HBV in HBeAg-seronegative patients with compensated cirrhosis leads to a significant regression of pre-existing EV accompanied by a negligible risk of developing de novo EV.