EASL 2017: Albumin Reduces Complications of Decompensated Cirrhosis and Improves Survival

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Long-term administration of human album was associated with fewer serious complications, less hospitalization, better quality of life, and longer survival for people with decompensated liver cirrhosis, according to a report at the EASL International Liver Congress last month in Amsterdam.

Over years or decades, chronic hepatitis B or C, excessive alcohol consumption, and other causes of liver damage can lead to advanced cirrhosis, liver cancer, and ultimately liver failure, transplantation, or death.

Decompensated liver disease occurs when the liver can no longer carry out its vital functions due to the accumulation of scar tissue and blockage of blood flow. Complications include ascites (build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity), bleeding veins in the esophagus, and hepatic encephalopathy. Ascites is generally treated with diuretics and paracentesis -- a procedure that involves draining fluid with a needle -- but a liver transplant is the only curative therapy.

Mauro Bernardi from the University of Bologna and colleagues conducted a randomized clinical trial to assess whether long-term administration of human albumin -- a protein that helps maintain fluid balance in the body -- had advantages over the standard of care.

The ANSWER studyenrolled 440 patients with advanced cirrhosis and uncomplicated ascites at more than 30 centers in Italy. A majority were men and the average age was 60 years.

The mean Child-Pugh score was 8.1 (Class B) and the mean MELD score -- used to prioritize patients for liver transplantation -- was approximately 13. Participants had been treated for ascites using diuretics (at least 25 mg/day furosemide and 200 mg/day anti-mineralocorticoid drugs), but those with refractory ascites who needed paracentesis twice or more in the past month were excluded. Also excluded were people with gastrointestinal bleeding, hepatocellular carcinoma, and several other complications.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either standard medical treatment using diuretics, or standard treatment plus human albumin. Those in the albumin arm started with 40 grams twice-weekly for 2 weeks, then reduced their dose to once-weekly.

The primary study endpoint was overall survival, with secondary measures including need for paracentesis, other complications of cirrhosis, hospital admissions, and quality of life. Patients were followed for up to 18 months.

Results

“There has been a lack of scientific evidence proving that long-term human albumin can treat cirrhosis with ascites," Dr Bernardi said in an EASL press release. "The ANSWER study has now clarified this issue, showing that human albumin extends survival and helps better manage ascites, as well as reducing the incidence of severe complications of this very serious disease."

"Based on this data, weekly administration of albumin should be considered in patients with cirrhosis and ascites to prevent life-threatening complications," added Annalisa Berzigotti from the University of Berne.

5/3/17

Sources

P Caraceni, O Riggio, P Angeli, M Bernardi, et al. Long-term albumin administration improves survival in patients with decompensated cirrhosis: final results of the ANSWER study. EASL International Liver Congress. Amsterdam, April 19-23, 2017. Abstract LBO-08.

EASL. ILC 2017: Long-term treatment of decompensated cirrhosis with human albumin improves survival – results from the ANSWER study. Press release. April 22, 2017.