Liver Shorts -February 2020

Caution with hemoglobin A1c interpretation: MM Kelsey et al. J Pediatr 2020; 216: 232-5. In the HEALTHY Study (n=8814), the authors note that a hemoglobin A1c was ≥5.7% in 2% of normal weight youth.  “This suggests need for cautious interpretation of prediabetes hemoglobin A1cs in youth”

Daily aspirin for NAFLD: TG Simon et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2019; 17: 2776-84.  In this prospective cohort of 361 adults with biopsy-proven NAFLD, the use of daily aspirin (in 151) was associated with lower odds of NASH (aOR.68) and reduced risk of  fibrosis (aOR 0.54).  “The greatest benefit found with at least 4 years or more of aspirin use” (aHR =0.50).  The associated editorial (pages 2651-3) recommends controlled studies to determine if potential benefits outweigh the known risks (eg. bleeding).

Glecaprevir/pibrentasvir for HCV Treatment Failure:  AS Lok et al. Gastroenterol 2019; 157: 1506-17.  This randomized study with 177 patients showed that 16 weeks of glecaprevir and pibrentasvir was effective in retreatment of patients with genotype 1 hepatitis C viral infection (after prior failure with sofosbuvir plus an NS5A inhibitor).  The sustained virologic response 12 weeks after treatment was >90%.

Liver transplantation for Niemann-Pick Disease, type B:  YLY Luo et al. Liver Transplantation 2019; 25: 1233-40. This report analyzed 7 children receiving liver transplantation for Niemann-Pick disease, type B.  The authors report survival in the entire cohort and with normalized liver function within 3 weeks.  In addition, they noted improvement in psychomotor ability ( 10 months after transplantation) and resolution of insterstitial lung disease.  They state that developmental delay still existed in 4 patients during follow-up.  The editorial (1140-1) notes that these findings need to be confirmed but open a new window in improving the phenotype.  “A similar experience occurred with LT in maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), in which the liver is considered to host only 12-15% of the defective  enzyme responsible for the disease…in MSUD, liver replacement is able to counteract 85% of extrahepatic expression of the disease and to completely correct the phenotype.”

Increased Abdominal-Surgery Risk in Patients with Idiopathic Noncirrhotic Portal Hypertension: L Elkrief et al. Hepatology 2019; 70: 911-24. Among 44 patients (median age 44 years) with noncirrhoitic portal hypertension, 16 (33%) had one or more portal hypertension-related complication within 3 months after surgery.  4 (9%) died within 6 months.  “An unfavorable outcome (i.e. either liver or surgical complication or death) occurred in 22 (50%) patients” and was more likely in those with ascites, creatinine >100 micromol/L, or other extrahepatic complications related to portal hypertension.

One of my blog readers shared this image of “Liver Shorts” that can be purchased online

Using Preoperative Aspirin to Prevent Postoperative Problems –Negative Study

A recent study has looked at whether giving aspirin prior to surgery can help those who take aspirin and also those who do not (NEJM 2014; 1494-503).  This trial called POISE-2 (Perioperative Ischemic Evaluation 2) was undertaken to determine if low-dose aspirin, as compared to placebo, would affect 30-day risk of death or nonfatal myocardial infarction.

The relevance of this study relates to aspirin’s known potential for preventing venous thromboembolism and the fact that “one-third of patients undergoing noncardiac surgery who are at risk for major vascular complications receive perioperative aspirin.”

The study enrolled 10,010 patients and employed a 2-by-2 trial design to account for whether they had been taking aspirin.  The study took place between 2010-2013 at 135 hospitals and 23 countries.  Mean age was 68 years in both groups.


  • The rate of death was similar in both groups: 7.0% for aspirin and 7.1% for placebo (hazard ratio 0.99)
  • Major bleeding was more common with aspirin than placebo: 4.6% vs. 3.8% (P=0.04).

Bottomline: Perioperative aspirin had no significant beneficial effect.

Related study: NEJM 2014; 370: 1504-13.  Conclusion: “Administration of low-dose clonidien in patients undergoing noncardiac surgery did not reduce the rate of” death or nonfatal myocardial infarction.  Patients who received clonidine had more frequent hypotension and nonfatal cardiac arrest.

Targeted aspirin therapy to improve colorectal cancer survival

A recent study shows that a specific subset of patients with colorectal cancer are most likely to benefit from aspirin therapy (NEJM 2012; 367: 1596-606).

This study used data from two prospective cohort studies, the Nurses’ Health Study (n=121,700) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (n=51,500).  Among these patients, data was analyzed from 964 in whom there was known information on the presence or absence of the PIK3CA mutation.  In total, only 161 of these 964 patients had mutations in PIK3CA; 66 of these took aspirin and 95 did not.

Mutations in PIK3CA affect the gene encoding phosphatidylinositol-4,5-bisphosphonate-3-kinase and occur in 15-20% of colorectal cancers.  Up-regulation of this gene enhances prostaglandin E2 synthesis and prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase 2 (also known as cyclooxygenase-2) which results in the inhibition of apoptosis in colon-cancer cells. Due to this mechanism, the authors hypothesized that blocking this pathway with aspirin would have a beneficial outcome with regard to tumor molecular characteristics and patient outcomes.

Mutations in PIK3CA were detected with PCR and pyrosequencing after DNA extraction from paraffin-embedded tissues.

Among patients with mutated-PIK3CA colorectal cancers, regular use of aspirin after diagnosis was associated with better survival.  Hazard ratio for cancer-related death was 0.18 and overall death rate also was lower with hazard ratio of 0.54.  In patients without this mutation (wild-type PIK3CA), regular use of aspirin was not associated with a survival advantage; hazard ratio of cancer-specific survival was 0.96 and overall survival hazard ratio was 0.94.

While this study had data on a large number of other characteristics, including BRAF, KRAS, CIMP, LINE-1, and microsatellite instability, it lacked statistical power to examine many of these other modification effects.

These data, if confirmed, indicate a role for aspirin in colorectal cancer patients with PIK3CA mutations.

Related blog entries:

Aspirin prophylaxis for colorectal cancer?

A recent article in The Lancet has provided additional information about the use of aspirin for cancer prevention, especially colorectal cancer (Rothwell PM et al. Lancet 2012; published online March 21. DOI: 10: 1016/S0140-6736 (11)61720-0).  In the commentary on this article (DOI: 10: 1016/S0140-6736 (11)61654-1), the potential benefits of aspirin are placed into context and previous studies are reviewed.  In short, the data from a number of studies suggest that aspirin lowers the risk of cancer.

In Rothwell’s study, which pooled data from 51 randomized trials, aspirin at any dose reduced the risk of non-vascular death by 12% and cancer death by 15%.   Benefit was seen within 3 years for high-dose (>300 mg/day) and after 5 years for low doses (<300 mg).  The cumulative numbers of patients in the reviewed studies was approximately 40,000 in each arm.  These studies were divided and examined under separate categories to assess primary prevention for vascular events and to assess effects on cancer deaths.

Yet, these encouraging results though have not been seen in several large randomized trials; the editorial notes that “the Women’s Health Study (WHS) of 39,876 women treated with alternated day 100 mg aspirin over 10 years and the Physicians’ Health Study (PHS) of 22,071 men treated with alternate-day 325 mg aspirin for 5 years.  After 10-12 years of folllow-up, aspirin was not associated with reduced risk of colorectal cancer.”  In addition, as noted in previous post, ( Who needs aspirin?/Arch Intern Med 2012; 119: 112-8) a large study with over 100,000 patients also did not show reduction in mortality from vascular or non-vascular events.

Whether alternate-day dosing of aspirin (in WHS and PHS studies) undermines its efficacy in preventing cancer is not clear.  Until more data are available, aspirin for chemoprevention is best-suited for those with increased cancer risk (eg. history of colorectal cancer & hereditary cancer syndrome) and low risk of GI bleeding.  Rates of bleeding due to aspirin are about 4% per year and for serious bleeding about 2% per year. In addition, other adverse effects, including macular degeneration, have been reported with aspirin use (Ophthalmology 2012; 119: 112-8).

Additional references:

  • Link to pdf copy of cited article:
  • -Lancet 2011; 377: 31-41. Aspirin effect on cancer mortality -decreased by 30-40% (esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, colorectal)
  • -Lancet 2010; 376: 1741 – 1750. Long-term effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: 20-year follow-up of five randomised trials. Lowers risk of colon Ca.
  • -JAMA 2009; 302: 649. Aspirin use likely increases survival after dx of colon cancer.
  • -Gastro 2010;138: 2012. Commentary on aspirin for decreasing risk after diagnosis of colon cancer.
  • -NEJM 2007; 356: 2131, 2195. Aspirin can decrease high-expressing COX-2 colon adenoca; not recommended as routine prophylaxis at this time

Who needs aspirin?

Despite a lot of good press for aspirin with regards to prevention of cardiovascular events and cancer prevention, determining who should take aspirin is quite tricky.  This blog entry will discuss the vascular rationale and a subsequent post will tackle the potential of aspirin for colorectal cancer prevention.

At this time, the cardiovascular disease (CVD) rationale includes preventing myocardial infarction [MI] and stroke.  These are the main determinants of risk/benefit for taking aspirin.  In 2009, guidelines from US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) for taking aspirin were published (Ann Intern Med 2009; 150: 396-404).  The following link can be used to access this article:

The recommendations include the following:

Men <45:  Not encourage aspirin for MI prevention

Women <55: Not encourage aspirin for stroke prevention

Men 45-79:  Encourage aspirin when CVD benefit.  Benefit likely if:

  • 45-59 years, 10 -year CVD risk ≥4%
  • 60-69 years, 10-year CVD risk ≥9%
  • 70-79 years, 10-year CVD risk ≥12%
To calculate 10-year CVD risk:
Risk factors: age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, history of CVD, total cholesterol level, and HDL cholesterol level

Women 55-79:  Encourage aspirin when stroke benefit.  Benefit likely if:

  • 55-59 years, 10 -year stroke risk ≥3%
  • 60-69 years, 10 -year stroke risk ≥8%
  • 70-59 years, 10 -year stroke risk ≥11%

To calculate 10 -year stroke risk:

Risk factors: age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, history of CVD, atrial fibrillation, and left ventricular hypertrophy

In addition, it is noted that aspirin is NOT recommended when other NSAIDs are being administered or if history of GI ulcers/risk of serious GI bleeding.

While these recommendations are a useful starting point and the risk calculators are fascinating, the absolute benefit of aspirin remains unclear.  A recent article on this subject indicates that aspirin may not improve mortality (Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(3):209-216. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.628).  This article reviewed nine large randomized placebo-controlled studies, each with at least 1000 participants.  In total, more than 100,000 patients were described in these studies.  While CVD events were reduced by 10%, there was no reduction in mortality for cardiovascular disease (OR 0.99) or for cancer (OR 0.93) among aspirin takers over a mean of 6 years.  Most of the reduction in CVD events were due to a lower rate of non-fatal MI (OR 0.80).  In addition, there was an increase in significant GI bleeding among patients taking aspirin (OR 1.31)

Due to these results, the authors conclude that routine use as primary prevention is not warranted; “treatment decisions need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Additional reference:

  • Arch Intern Med 2012;172:217-218.  Aspirin Therapy in Primary Prevention: Comment on “Effect of Aspirin on Vascular and Nonvascular Outcomes”

Preventing Cancer in patients with Barrett’s Esophagus

Though Barrett’s esophagus is rare in pediatric gastroenterology, concerns about esophageal cancer are fairly frequent.  In addition, some conditions that increase the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma start in childhood.

One way to lessen the risk of Barrett’s esophagus in adults is through the use of medications (Gastroenterology 2012; 142: 442-52).  This study was a pooled analysis of six population-based trials with a total of 1226 esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) patients and 1140 esophagogastric junctional adenocarcinoma (EGJA) patients.  NSAIDs (aspirin and nonaspirin) lowered the risk of both EAC and EGJA, with OR of 0.68 and 0.83 respectively.

Although this study suggests a possible role for NSAIDs in preventing cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus, the risks and benefits for this intervention need to be individualized.

Related previous blog post: More bad news for smokers

Additional references:

  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 2000. Lower risk of Barrett’s in pts taking NSAIDs & statins. n=570.
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 1179. Overall, patients with BE and LGD have a low annual incidence of EAC, similar to nondysplastic BE. There are no risk factors for progression and there is significant interobserver variation in diagnosis, even among expert pathologists.
  • -NEJM 2011; 365: 1375. Large Danish study, n=11028. Lower incidence of Barrett’s than previous estimates. Relative risk of 11.3 compared to general population for adenoca of Esophagus with absolute annual risk of 0.12%. Barrett’s patients have the same life expectancy as general population (ed. pg 1437). Detecting cancer only ~1 in 1460 scopes with screening whereas Barrett’s detected in 10% of pts.
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 141: 417, 460. Durable effects of ablation, n=127..
  • -Gastroenterology 2011; 140: 1084. AGA statement on Barrett’s . Recs screening only in those with multiple risk factors (age 50, male, chronic GERD, white, incr BMI)
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2010; 8: 565. Guidelines suggest that screening for Barrett’s is not justified w/o alarm symptoms (dysphagia, odynophagia, wt loss, anemia, hematemesis)
  • -Gastroenterology 2010; 138: 2260. n=11,823. Decrease risk of esophageal adenoCa in patients taking NSAIDs & statins.
  • -Gastroenterology 2010; 138: 854. Nice review.
  • -Gastroenterology 2010; 138: 5. Survival equivalent to general population according to Mayo study, n=366. In Barrett’s patients, leading cause of death was cardiovascular (28%). Esophageal cancer resulted in 7% of deaths. Study presented at ACG Oct 26, 2009.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hepatology 2009; 7: 1266. no benefit from surgery for Barrett’s & unclear if chemoprevention works.
  • -Gastroenterology 2009; 137: 763. Suggests surveillance with Barrett’s is not beneficial.
  • -NEJM 2009; 360: 2277, 2353.. Radiofrequency ablation can be effective.
  • -Gut 2008; 57: 1200-06. Utility of endoscopic Rx.
  • -Clin Gastro & Hep 2008; 6: 1206; editorials: 1180, 1181, 1183.. n=2107 with Barrett’s. 79 w surgery and 80 w endoscopic Rx.
  • -Gastro & Hep 2006; 2: 468. 2-8% of pts in general population have Barrett’s. >90% of ptsc Barretts will never develop cancer. Screening has not been proven to be effective in lowering rate of death from cancer. ~40% of US population has heartburn; only 8000-9000/yr develop esoph adenoCa. Also, the presence of Barrett esophagus does not decrease life expectancy.
  • -Gastroenterology 2005; 129: 1825-31. 1.6% incidence of BE in adult Swedish population. Alcohol, smoking increase risk.