Sex Disparity in Liver Transplant and Access to Living Donation

JAMA Surg. 2021 Nov 1;156(11):1010-1017. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2021.3586.


Importance: The Model for End-stage Liver Disease (MELD)-based organ allocation system has significantly decreased mortality on the transplant waiting list for patients with end-stage liver disease. However, women have remained at a disadvantage with respect to access to deceased donor liver transplant (DDLT) even after introduction of the MELD score for organ allocation.

Objective: To determine whether availability of living donation in a transplant program can offset inequity in liver transplant (LT) allocation for women.

Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study retrospectively analyzed adult patients listed for LT at the University Health Network in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Patients included had a potential living donor (pLD) at the moment of listing. This study was performed from November 13, 2012, to May 31, 2019. A total of 1289 listed patients (830 men; 459 women) were analyzed during the study period.

Main outcomes and measures: This study performed survival analysis and competing-risk analysis to delineate how access to livers from living donors was associated with events in women vs men on the transplant waiting list (LT, death, or dropout).

Results: Of 1289 included patients, 459 (35.6%) were women, and the mean (SD) age was 56.1 (10.0) years at assessment and listing. A total of 783 of 1289 listed patients underwent LT. Among those with no pLD at assessment, there was a higher median (range) Model for End-stage Liver Disease incorporating sodium levels (MELD-Na) score at listing (22 [6-50] vs 19 [6-50]; P < .001) and at LT (27 [6-49] vs 20 [6-52]; P < .001) in women receiving DDLT. Women were at a significant disadvantage without a pLD (hazard ratio [HR], 1.29; 95% CI, 1.04-1.60; P = .01); there was no difference in access to LT with availability of a pLD (HR, 0.93; 95% CI, 0.76,-1.14; P = .44). The instantaneous rate of receiving a transplant in men with a pLD was 1.39 times higher than men who did not have a pLD (HR, 1.39; 95% CI; P < .001) and the instantaneous rate of receiving a transplant in women with a pLD was 1.92 times higher than in women who did not (HR, 1.92; 95% CI, 1.51-2.44; P < .001). The HR was 1.38 times higher in women compared with men across the MELD-Na score strata (HR, 1.38; 95% CI, 1.03-1.84; P = .03) and 2.04 times higher when the MELD-Na score was less than 20 (HR, 2.04; 95% CI, 1.31-3.14; P = .001).

Conclusions and relevance: These study findings suggest that women can overcome the complex problem of allocation inequity with access to livers from living donors. Women with access only to DDLT were much more unwell than men independent of liver disease at the time of listing, dropout, or LT. Therefore, the wider availability of living donation liver transplant would be helpful in addressing the sex disparity in access to LT in the current MELD-Na era.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • End Stage Liver Disease / diagnosis
  • End Stage Liver Disease / epidemiology
  • End Stage Liver Disease / surgery*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Liver Transplantation*
  • Living Donors*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / organization & administration*
  • Waiting Lists