Why it's done

Liver transplant is a treatment option for people with liver failure whose condition can't be controlled other with treatments and for some people with liver cancer.

Liver failure may happen quickly or over a longer period of time. Liver failure that occurs quickly, in a matter of weeks, is called acute liver failure (fulminant hepatic failure) and is usually the result of medication-induced liver injury.

Although a liver transplant may treat acute liver failure, it is more often used to treat chronic liver failure. Chronic liver failure occurs slowly over months and years.

Chronic liver failure may be caused by a variety of conditions. The most common cause of chronic liver failure is scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), a process in which scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue and impairs liver function. Cirrhosis is the most frequently cited reason for a liver transplant.

Major causes of cirrhosis leading to liver failure and liver transplant include:

  • Hepatitis B and C.
  • Alcoholic liver disease.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Genetic diseases affecting the liver (including hemochromatosis and Wilson's disease).
  • Diseases that affect the bile ducts (the tubes that carry bile away from the liver), such as primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and biliary atresia. Biliary atresia is the most common reason for liver transplant among children.

Liver transplant may also treat certain cancers that originate in the liver (primary liver cancers).