Waiting for a donor for a liver transplant

This information is for people who are having a liver transplant. We have separate information if you are having part of your liver removed.  Your doctor might call this a liver resection or a lobectomy

Your donor liver needs to be from someone with a similar weight and a compatible blood type. This means the donor liver doesn't have to have the same blood type as you. But it does need to be compatible with your blood type. 

Where do donor livers come from?

Most livers used for transplantation come from people who have agreed to donate their liver when they die and are on the organ donor registry. This is a list of people that have agreed to donate their organs when they die. It’s normal to have mixed feelings about this. Your doctors will talk to you about this and can answer any questions to help put your mind at ease.

Living donors

Some people can have liver tissue donated from a living person. This is called a living donor liver transplantation. The donor gives part of their liver to you. Their liver can grow back quite quickly (rejuvenate).

A living donor liver transplant has risks for the donor, as well as the person receiving the liver tissue.

Waiting for a transplant

Waiting list 

Once you and your doctor agree that a transplant is the best treatment for you, your name goes on a waiting list for a donated liver. Livers will be matched to patients on the waiting list. This is based on who is likely to get the most benefit from the liver transplant.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more people on the waiting list than there are livers available each year. Depending on how well you are, you will either wait for your liver transplant at home or in hospital. No one will be able to tell you exactly when a liver will become available.

Coping with the wait

Some people will only have to wait a few days. Other people have to wait longer, possibly many months. This waiting time can be extremely difficult for you and those close to you.

You may find yourself thinking about it all the time and worrying that it will never happen. There may be times when you are feeling unwell and wonder if you'll still be fit enough to have the transplant when a liver finally becomes available. Your doctors and nurses are aware of this and will try to support you through it as much as they can. Talk to them if you are worried or feel unwell. 

Regular check ups and other treatments 

You might have treatment such as chemoembolisation or radiofrequency ablation (RFA). This treatment aims to help control the growth of your cancer while you are waiting for the transplant.

When the liver becomes available 

The transplant team will contact you immediately when a liver becomes available. You should always have a bag packed ready to take into hospital. You'll need to get there very quickly once you have been contacted. If you arrive at the hospital and then the liver is found to be unsuitable for you, you will have to go home and wait until another liver is available. This can be frustrating, but your doctors and nurses will support you as much as they can.

Last reviewed: 
24 Nov 2021
Next review due: 
24 Nov 2024
  • EASL Clinical Practice Guidelines: Management of hepatocellular carcinoma
    European Association for the Study of the Liver
    Journal of Hepatology, 2018. Volume 69, Pages 182-236

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    A Vogel and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2018. Volume 29, Supplement 4, Pages 238-255

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