Background and methods: The extent to which renal allotransplantation - as compared with long-term dialysis - improves survival among patients with end-stage renal disease is controversial, because those selected for transplantation may have a lower base-line risk of death. In an attempt to distinguish the effects of patient selection from those of transplantation itself, we conducted a longitudinal study of mortality in 228,552 patients who were receiving long-term dialysis for end-stage renal disease. Of these patients, 46,164 were placed on a waiting list for transplantation, 23,275 of whom received a first cadaveric transplant between 1991 and 1997. The relative risk of death and survival were assessed with time-dependent nonproportional-hazards analysis, with adjustment for age, race, sex, cause of end-stage renal disease, geographic region, time from first treatment for end-stage renal disease to placement on the waiting list, and year of initial placement on the list.
Results: Among the various subgroups, the standardized mortality ratio for the patients on dialysis who were awaiting transplantation (annual death rate, 6.3 per 100 patient-years) was 38 to 58 percent lower than that for all patients on dialysis (annual death rate, 16.1 per 100 patient-years). The relative risk of death during the first 2 weeks after transplantation was 2.8 times as high as that for patients on dialysis who had equal lengths of follow-up since placement on the waiting list, but at 18 months the risk was much lower (relative risk, 0.32; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.30 to 0.35; P<0.001). The likelihood of survival became equal in the two groups within 5 to 673 days after transplantation in all the subgroups of patients we examined. The long-term mortality rate was 48 to 82 percent lower among transplant recipients (annual death rate, 3.8 per 100 patient-years) than patients on the waiting list, with relatively larger benefits among patients who were 20 to 39 years old, white patients, and younger patients with diabetes.
Conclusions: Among patients with end-stage renal disease, healthier patients are placed on the waiting list for transplantation, and long-term survival is better among those on the waiting list who eventually undergo transplantation.