No Gains in Long-term Survival After Liver Transplantation Over the Past Three Decades

Ann Surg. 2019 Jan;269(1):20-27. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000002650.


Objective: The aim of this study was to assess improvements in long-term survival after liver transplant by analyzing outcomes in transplant recipients who survived beyond 1 year.

Summary of background data: Gains in short-term survival following liver transplantation have been gratifying. One-year survival in 1986 was 66% improved to over 92% in 2015. However, little is known about why long-term has not seen similar success.

Methods: We analyzed 111,568 recipients from 1987 to 2016 using the Kaplan-Meier method for time-to-event analysis and multivariable Cox regression.

Results: There were no significant gains in unadjusted long-term outcomes among 1-year survivors over the past 30 years. Only the time periods of 1987 to 1990 [hazard ratio (HR) 1.35, confidence interval CI) 1.28-1.42] and 1991 to 1995 (HR 1.17, CI 1.13-1.21) had a minor increase in risk compared with the period 2011 to 2016. Cause of death analysis suggests malignancy after transplantation is a growing problem and preventing recurrent hepatitis C with direct-acting antivirals (DDAs) may only have a limited impact. Furthermore, rejection leading to graft failure and death had a rare occurrence (1.7% of long-term deaths) especially when compared with the sequelae of long-term immunosuppression: malignancy (16.4%), nonrejection graft failure (9.8%), and infection (10.5%) (P < 0.001).

Conclusion: In stark contrast to short-term survival, there have been no appreciable improvements in long-term survival following liver transplantation among 1-year survivors. Long-term sequelae of immunosuppression, including malignancy and infection, are the most common causes of death. This study highlights the need for better long-term immunosuppression management.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cause of Death / trends
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Graft Rejection / epidemiology*
  • Graft Survival
  • Humans
  • Liver Transplantation / mortality*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Transplant Recipients*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult