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Who can have a liver transplant?

You might be able to have a liver transplant if you have:  

  • a single tumour no more than 5cm across
  • a single tumour 5 to 7cm across and has not grown for at least 6 months  
  • 3 small tumours, each one no larger than 3cm across  

A liver transplant is not an option if the cancer has grown into a blood vessel or spread outside of the liver. This is because there would still be cancer cells left behind in the body after the operation. So the operation wouldn't get rid of all the cancer.

You might not be able to have a liver transplant if you have very severe liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). Your specialist will have to decide whether you would be well enough to get through the operation and recovery period.

Assessment for a liver transplant

Before you can have a transplant you have an assessment to check how well your liver is working and whether a transplant is the best treatment for you. You usually have these as an outpatient but you may need a short stay in hospital for this.

You have detailed blood tests called liver function tests as well as a number of other tests, such as an ultrasound scan.

Having a liver transplant involves a lot of careful preparation from a number of different health care professionals. You'll meet these people during the assessment. Take this time to get to know them and ask as many questions as you want to. This helps you go into the operation feeling well prepared.

You'll have several more tests before your surgery, if you and your doctor decide to go ahead with the liver transplant. This might mean going into hospital a few days before your operation.

Waiting for a liver transplant

To have a liver transplant you need a donor liver that is a close match to your own. Unfortunately there are more people needing a liver than there are livers available. It’s possible that you will have to wait a long time.

During this time the cancer can progress, which may mean you can't have a transplant anymore. Because of this risk you might be offered other treatment to control the cancer while you are waiting. This treatment could include:

  • treatment to destroy cancer cells (ablation)
  • chemotherapy directly into the blood vessel feeding the liver cancer and blocking off the blood supply (chemoembolisation)
  • targeted cancer drugs
Last reviewed: 
22 Aug 2018
  • 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-ESDO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    C Verslype and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2012. Volume 23, Pages 41-48

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