Why can’t my patient with alcohol-related liver disease be placed on the liver transplant list for at least 6 months after his last drink?

Although many centers impose a 6-month sobriety rule before patients can be listed for liver transplant, this rule has been increasingly challenged based on the results of more recent studies and ethical issues. 1-10

The argument for enforcing a 6-month sobriety rule is in part based on earlier studies (often small and/or single center) that reported an association between less than 6 months of sobriety before liver transplantation and relapse.5-6 Another frequently cited reason for postponing liver transplantation is to allow the liver enough time to recover from adverse effect of recent alcohol consumption before assessing the need for transplantation.6

Arguments against the 6-month sobriety rule include the very limited life-expectancy (often 3 months or less) of patients with severe alcohol-related liver disease who do not respond to medical therapy and increasing number of studies supporting earlier transplantation particularly in selected patients (eg, severe acute alcoholic hepatitis [SAAH], acute-on-chronic liver failure [ACLF]).1,7,9,10,

Further supporting a less stringent transplantation rule are a low rate (about 4%) of death or graft loss in alcohol-related liver disease patients who experience a relapse and lack of significant differences in survival between non-relapsers, occasional drinkers and problem drinkers.1 A 2019 multicenter, prospective study in the U.S. also found that early liver transplant for alcohol-related  liver disease was associated with comparable patient and graft survival as those without alcohol-related liver disease at 5 years post-transplant but increased risk of death at 10 years. 10

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that alcohol-related liver disease is now the most common diagnosis among patients undergoing liver transplantation in the U.S.? 10

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  1. Obed A, Stern S, Jarrad A, et al. Six month abstinence rule for liver transplantation in severe alcoholic liver disease patients. W J Gastroenterol 2015; 21:4423-26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394109/
  2. Bramstedt KA, Jabbour N. When alcohol abstinence criteria create ethical dilemmas for the liver transplant team. J Med Ethics 2006;32:263-65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2579412/
  3. Kollmann D, Rashoul-Rockenschaub S, Steiner I, et al. Good outcome after liver transplantation for ALD without a 6 months abstinence rule prior to transplantation including post-tranplantation CDT monitoring for alcohol relapse assement— a retrospective study. Transplant International 2016;29:559-67. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/tri.12756
  4. Osorio RW, Ascher NL, Avery M, et al. Predicting recidivism after orthoptic liver transplantation for alcoholic liver disease. Hepatoloty 1994;20:105-110. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/hep.1840200117
  5. Carbonneau M, Jensen LA, Bain VG. Alcohol use while on the liver transplant waiting list: a single-center experience. Liver Transplantation 2010;16:91-97. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/lt.21957
  6. Harnanan A. Challenging the “six-month sober” rule for liver transplants in Canada. McGill Journal of Law and Health. Dec 12, 2019. https://mjlh.mcgill.ca/2019/12/12/challenging-the-six-month-sober-rule-for-liver-transplants-in-canada/
  7. Lee BP, Mehta N, Platt L, et al. Outcomes of early liver transplantation for patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis. Gastroenterology 2018;155:422-430.e1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6460480/
  8. Rice JP, Lee BP. Early liver transplantation for alcohol-associated liver disease: need for engagement and education of all stakeholders. Hepatol Communications 2019;3: 1019-21. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/hep4.1385
  9. Lee BP, Vittinghoff E, Pletcher MJ, et al. Medicaid policy and liver transplant for alcohol-related liver disease. Hepatology; November 8, 2019 https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/hep.31027
  10. Lee BP, Vittinghoff E, Dodge JL, et al. National trends and long-term outcomes of liver transplant for alcohol-associated liver disease in the United States. JAMA Intern Med 2019;179:340-48. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2720757?widget=personalizedcontent&previousarticle=2720750

Contributed in part by Nneka Ufere, MD, GI Division, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA

Why can’t my patient with alcohol-related liver disease be placed on the liver transplant list for at least 6 months after his last drink?

When should I suspect invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in my patient with COPD exacerbation?

Think of invasive pulmonary aspergillosis (IPA) in your patient when she or he has a COPD exacerbation that appears refractory to broad-spectrum antibiotics and high doses of steroids. Heighten your suspicion even more in patients with severe-steroid dependent COPD, presence of a new pulmonary infiltrate or isolation of Aspergillus spp from respiratory cultures. 1

It’s worth remembering that although dyspnea and bronchospasm are found in most COPD patients with IPA, in contrast to haematological patients, fever, chest pain and hemoptysis are usually absent in this patient population.1

Diagnosis of IPA in this patient population is challenging for several reasons including: 1. A definitive or “proven” diagnosis requires histopathologic evidence of Aspergillus invasion of lung tissue which is not possible without subjecting an already fragile patient to invasive procedures (eg, lung aspiration or biopsy); 2. In contrast to IPA in highly susceptible immunocompromised patients with cancer and recipients of hematopoietic stem cell transplants, standardized definition of IPA in patients with COPD is lacking; 1,3 and 3. Frequent colonization of the respiratory tract of COPD patients with Aspergillus spp (16.3 per 1000 COPD admission in 1 study) 4,5, makes it difficult to diagnose IPA based on cultures alone.

Aside from respiratory cultures, another non-invasive test, serum galactomannan (GM, a polysaccharide antigen that exists primarily in the cell walls of Aspergillus spp and released into the blood during its growth phase 6) may have some utility in suggesting IPA in COPD patients, albeit with a mediocre sensitivity (~30-60%) but respectable specificity (>80 %). In contrast, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid GM may have better sensitivity  (~75%-90%) with similar specificity as that of serum GM in the diagnosis of IPA in these patients 7-8

Bonus pearl: Did you know that the incidence of IPA appears to be increasing in COPD patients requiring ICU admission, with reported mortality rates of 67% to 100%? 7

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  1. Bulpa P, Dive A, Sibille Y. Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Eur Res J 2007;30:782-800. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906086
  2. Bulpa P, Bihin B, Dimopoulos G, et al. Which algorithm diagnoses invasive pulmonary aspergillosis best in ICU patietns with COPD? Eur Resir J 2017;50:1700532 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28954783
  3. Barberan J, Garcia-Perez FJ, Villena V, et al. Development of aspergillosis in a cohort of non-neutropenic, non-transplant patients colonized by Aspergillus spp. BMC Infect Dis 2017;17:34. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12879-016-2143-5
  4. Guinea J, Torres-Narbona M, Gijon P, et al. Pulmonary aspergillosis in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: incidence, risk factors, and outcome. Clin Microbiol Infect 2010; 16:870-77. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1198743X14617432
  5. Blot Stijn I, Taccone FS, Van den Abeele A-M, et al. A clinical algorithm to diagnose invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in critically ill patients. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 202;186:56-64. https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/rccm.201111-1978OC
  6. Pfeiffer CD, Fine JP, Safdar N. Diagnosis of invasive aspergillosis using a galactomannan assay: a meta-analysis. Clin Infect Dis 2006;42:1417-27. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/42/10/1417/278148
  7. He H, Ding L, Sun B, et al. Role of galactomannan determinations in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from critically ill patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for the diagnosis of invasive pulmonary aspergillosis: a prospective study. Critical Care 2012;16:R138. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5066034/
  8. Zhou W, Li H, Zhang Y, et al. Diagnostic value of galactomannan antigen test in serum and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from patients with nonneutropenic invasive pulmonary aspergillosis. J Clin Microbiol 2017;55:2153-61. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28446576
When should I suspect invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in my patient with COPD exacerbation?

Can my patient with cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma still qualify for a liver transplant?


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the 3rd most common cause of cancer-related deaths1. Liver transplant removes the HCC tumor and addresses the underlying cirrhosis. Unfortunately, the demand for liver transplants exceeds the supply of available livers, making it necessary to select patients with the best recurrent-free survival following transplantation. .

Mazzaferro2 found that patients who had one lesion <5 cm, no more than 3 lesions each <3 cm, and no extrahepatic involvement or vascular invasion had significantly higher rates of recurrent-free survival following liver transplant than patients with tumors exceeding this criteria (92% vs 59% at 4 years, respectively, P = .002). This criteria, also known as the Milan criteria, has been substantiated by numerous studies3 and widely adopted. Other more inclusive criteria has also been proposed, including the UCSF criteria4 (one tumor <6.5 cm, no more than 3 tumors, all <4.5 cm and cumulative size <8cm) which have good survival rates, but have not been adopted due to limited supply of available livers.

Interestingly, patients with HCC not initially meeting the Milan criteria but who receive treatment to meet the criteria have similar post-transplantation recurrence-free survival rates as those who meet the criteria without downstaging4,5.



  1. El–Serag HB, Rudolph KL. Hepatocellular carcinoma: epidemiology and molecular carcinogenesis. Gastroenterology. 2007 Jun 30;132(7):2557-76.
  2. Mazzaferro V, Regalia E, Doci R, et al. L. Liver transplantation for the treatment of small hepatocellular carcinomas in patients with cirrhosis. N Engl J Med 1996; 334: 693-699.
  3. Mazzaferro V, Bhoori S, Sposito C, et al. Milan criteria in liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma: an evidence‐based analysis of 15 years of experience. Liver Transplantation 2011;17(S2): S44-S57.
  4. Yao FY, Ferrell L, Bass NM, et al. Liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma: comparison of the proposed UCSF criteria with the Milan criteria and the Pittsburgh modified TNM criteria. Liver transplantation. 2002 Sep 1;8(9):765-74.
  5. Ravaioli M, Grazi GL, Piscaglia F, et al. Liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma: results of down-staging in patients initially outside the Milan selection criteria. Am J Transplant. 2008;8:2547–2557.
  6. Yao FY, Kerlan RK, Hirose R, et al. Excellent outcome following down-staging of hepatocellular carcinoma prior to liver transplantation: an intention-to-treat analysis. Hepatology. 2008;48:819–827.

Contributed by Marissa Shoji, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

Can my patient with cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma still qualify for a liver transplant?

When should I consider Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PCP) prophylaxis in my non-HIV patient?

The most significant risk factor for PCP prophylaxis is defect in cell-mediated immunity including high-dose glucocorticoid (HDGC, ≥20 mg of prednisone daily) treatment1.  A systematic review concluded that at a PCP rate of 6.2% in control groups, PCP prophylaxis with trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/STX) is highly effective (85% risk reduction) in non-HIV patients with acute leukemia or solid organ/autologous bone marrow  transplantation (number needed to treat 19)2.

Other Indications for PCP prophylaxis include1:

  1. HDGC treatment for ≥1month plus another cause of immunocompromise.
  2. Combination of immunosuppressive drugs, such as tumor-necrosing factor- α inhibitors plus HDGC or other immunosuppression.
  3. Polymyositis/dermatomyositis with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis on glucocorticoids.
  4. Certain primary immunodeficiencies (eg idiopathic CD4-lymphopenia, hyper-IgM syndrome).
  5. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s) on methotrexate and HDGC
  6. Rheumatologic diseases on HDGC and a second immunosuppressive drug
  7. T-cell depleting agents (eg, fludarabine)
  8. Severe malnutrition

TMP/STX may be given either as double-strength 3x/week or single-strength daily1,2.



  1. Anevlavis S, Kaltsas K, Bouros D. Prophylaxis for pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in non-HIV infected patients. PNEUMON 2012;25, October-December.
  2. Stern A, Green H, Paul M, Leibovici L. Prophylaxis for pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) in non-HIV immunocompromised patients (Review). Cochrane data of Systematic Reviews 2014, issue 10. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005590.pub3. 
When should I consider Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PCP) prophylaxis in my non-HIV patient?