Childhood Liver Cancer

What is childhood liver cancer?

The liver is the largest internal organ and plays many roles in different body systems. The liver aids in digestion, metabolism, detoxification, and the production of plasma components. It stores essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Liver cancer occurs when abnormal cells group together and multiply rapidly to form a tumor. The two main types of liver tumors are hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver tumors affect the organ’s ability to perform all of its tasks to keep the body functioning properly.

What are the different types of childhood liver cancer?

The two most common types of liver cancer in children are hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Hepatoblastoma

Hepatoblastoma is the most common type of liver cancer in children. Hepatoblastoma is considered a solid tumor, and in children it is usually diagnosed in the first three years of life. This type of liver cancer can spread to other parts of the body, but it typically does not.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma is a rare condition that occurs when cancerous cells are found in liver tissue. Hepatocellular carcinoma is typically diagnosed in teenagers and young adults. This type of cancer can spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, other abdominal organs and structures, the central nervous system, and the skeletal system. Two much less common types of childhood liver cancer include undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma of the liver (UESL) and infantile choriocarcinoma of the liver. UESL is typically found in children ages five to 10. Infantile choriocarcinoma of the liver is a very rare type of tumor that forms in the placenta during pregnancy and spreads to the fetus. This type of cancer is typically diagnosed in infants.

What are the symptoms of childhood liver cancer?

The symptoms of childhood liver cancer can vary significantly, depending on the type, size, and location of the tumor. In some children, symptoms are not present until a liver tumor has reached a large size. The symptoms most commonly associated with childhood liver cancer include:

  • A painless mass in the abdomen
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice
  • Back pain

The symptoms associated with childhood liver cancer are also associated with other common conditions. If you are concerned about symptoms your child is experiencing, schedule a consultation with your family doctor or pediatrician.

What are the causes and risk factors of childhood liver cancer?

The exact cause of childhood liver cancer remains unknown; however, some medical and genetic conditions may be linked to the condition. These conditions may include:

  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • Fanconi’s anemia
  • Biliary atresia
  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis (not caused by alcoholism)

Like many other types of childhood cancer, liver cancer in children is not strongly linked to environmental or lifestyle factors.

How is childhood liver cancer treated?

Treatment for childhood liver cancer is individualized, meaning that each patient has a unique treatment plan. Sometimes liver cancers are treated differently in children than in adults.

Treatment plans may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of multiple types of treatment. In some cases, physicians may recommend a liver transplant as a treatment option.