The impact of liver transplantation on hepatocellular Carcinoma mortality in the United States

Parag Mahale, Meredith S. Shiels, Charles F. Lynch, Srinath Chinnakotla, Linda L. Wong, Brenda Y. Hernandez, Karen S. Pawlish, Jie Li, Georgetta Alverson, Maria J. Schymura, Eric A. Engels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) carries a poor prognosis. Liver transplantation (LT) is potentially curative for localized HCC. We evaluated the impact of LT on U.S. general population HCC-specific mortality rates.

METHODS: The Transplant Cancer Match Study links the U.S. transplant registry with 17 cancer registries. We calculated age-standardized incidence (1987-2017) and incidence-based mortality (IBM) rates (1991-2017) for adult HCCs. We partitioned population-level IBM rates by cancer stage and calculated counterfactual IBM rates assuming transplanted cases had not received a transplant.

RESULTS: Among 129,487 HCC cases, 45.9% had localized cancer. HCC incidence increased on average 4.0% annually [95% confidence interval (CI) = 3.6-4.5]. IBM also increased for HCC overall (2.9% annually; 95% CI = 1.7-4.2) and specifically for localized stage HCC (4.8% annually; 95% CI = 4.0-5.5). The proportion of HCC-related transplants jumped sharply from 6.7% (2001) to 18.0% (2002), and further increased to 40.0% (2017). HCC-specific mortality declined among both nontransplanted and transplanted cases over time. In the absence of transplants, IBM for localized HCC would have increased at 5.3% instead of 4.8% annually.

CONCLUSIONS: LT has provided survival benefit to patients with localized HCC. However, diagnosis of many cases at advanced stages, limited availability of donor livers, and improved mortality for patients without transplants have limited the impact of transplantation on general population HCC-specific mortality rates.

IMPACT: Although LT rates continue to rise, better screening and treatment modalities are needed to halt the rising HCC mortality rates in the United States. See related commentary by Zhang and Thrift, p. 435.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-520
Number of pages8
JournalCancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of the NCI.

Funding Information:
The SRTR is currently operated under contract number HHSH250201500009C (Health Resources and Services Administration) by the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation, Minneapolis, MN. Previously the SRTR was managed under contracts HHSH250201000018C and HHSH234200537009C. The following cancer registries were supported by the SEER Program of the NCI: California (contracts HHSN261201000036C, HHSN261201000035C, and HHSN261201000034C), Connecticut (HHSN261201800002), Iowa (HSN261201000032C and N01-PC-35143), New Jersey (HHSN261201300021I, N01-PC-2013-00021), and New York (HHSN261201800005I). The following cancer registries were supported by the National Program of Cancer Registries of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: California (agreement 1U58 DP000807-01), Colorado (U58 DP000848-04), Georgia (5U58DP003875-01), Illinois (5U58DP003883-03), New Jersey (NU58DP006279-02-00), New York (5NU58DP006309), and Texas (5U58DP000824-04). Additional support was provided by the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, New York (including the Cancer Surveillance Improvement Initiative), and Texas.

Publisher Copyright:
©2020 American Association for Cancer Research.


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