Patients With Hepatocellular Carcinoma Have Highest Rates of Wait-listing for Liver Transplantation Among Patients With End-Stage Liver Disease

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Despite recent attention to differences in access to livers for transplantation, research has focused on patients already on the wait list. We analyzed data from a large administrative database that represents the entire US population, and state Medicaid data, to identify factors associated with differences in access to wait lists for liver transplantation.


We performed a retrospective cohort study of transplant-eligible patients with end-stage liver disease using the HealthCore Integrated Research Database (2006–2014; n = 16,824) and Medicaid data from 5 states (2002–2009; California, Florida, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; n = 67,706). Transplant-eligible patients had decompensated cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and/or liver synthetic dysfunction, based on validated International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision–based algorithms and data from laboratory studies. Placement on the wait list was determined through linkage with the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network database.


In an unadjusted analysis of the HealthCore database, we found that 29% of patients with HCC were placed on the 2-year wait list (95% confidence interval [CI], 25.4%–33.0%) compared with 11.9% of patients with stage 4 cirrhosis (ascites) (95% CI, 11.0%–12.9%) and 12.6% of patients with stage 5 cirrhosis (ascites and variceal bleeding) (95% CI, 9.4%–15.2%). Among patients with each stage of cirrhosis, those with HCC were significantly more likely to be placed on the wait list; adjusted subhazard ratios ranged from 1.7 (for patients with stage 5 cirrhosis and HCC vs those without HCC) to 5.8 (for patients with stage 1 cirrhosis with HCC vs those without HCC). Medicaid beneficiaries with HCC were also more likely to be placed on the transplant wait list, compared with patients with decompensated cirrhosis, with a subhazard ratio of 2.34 (95% CI, 2.20–2.49). Local organ supply and wait list level demand were not associated with placement on the wait list.


In an analysis of US healthcare databases, we found patients with HCC to be more likely to be placed on liver transplant wait lists than patients with decompensated cirrhosis. Previously reported reductions in access to transplant care for wait-listed patients with decompensated cirrhosis underestimate the magnitude of this difference.

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