The prevalence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in patients with haematological malignancies is increased compared with the general population worldwide. HBV reactivation is common following chemotherapy and is associated with a high mortality despite prompt anti-viral treatment. HBV reactivation may necessitate interruption of chemotherapy with adverse prognostic consequences for the haematological disease. Chemotherapy-induced immune suppression may lead to increased HBV replication. Immune reconstitution within the weeks and months following recovery from chemotherapy may be associated with a flare of hepatitis B manifested by hepatocellular injury. Risk factors associated with HBV reactivation include detectable hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), HBV DNA, Hepatitis B e (HBeAg) antigen, antibodies to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc), treatment with corticosteroids, young age and male gender. Lamivudine is effective during HBV reactivation due to immune suppression. Clinical trials have demonstrated that pre-emptive antiviral treatment with lamivudine is superior to deferred treatment. Current recommendations emphasise screening for HBV infection in all haematology patients, particularly prior to chemotherapy. Patients who are HBsAg positive or HBV DNA positive should receive pre-emptive treatment with lamivudine before chemotherapy. The duration of lamivudine treatment may be prolonged commensurate with the degree of immunosuppression. HBV naïve patients should be immunised against hepatitis B, as should haematopoietic stem cell donors. In summary, overt and occult HBV pose a serious, but preventable, threat. Pre-treatment screening of patients at risk should be practiced diligently by all clinicians that treat patients with malignancies. © 2007 The Authors.
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