Childhood liver cancer, also called hepatoma, is a rare disease. As one of the largest organs in the body, the liver has many functions, including changing food into energy and filtering and storing blood. There are two types of cancer that start in the liver — hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular cancer — which are grouped by how the cancer cells look under a microscope.
Hepatoblastoma is more common in children under age 3 and may be caused by an abnormal gene. Children of families whose relatives carry a gene related to a certain kind of colon cancer may be more likely to develop this type of cancer. Hepatocellular cancer is found in children from birth to 19 years of age. Children infected with hepatitis B or C, which are viral infections of the liver, are more likely than other children to get hepatocellular cancer. Immunization to prevent hepatitis B may decrease the chance of developing hepatocellular cancer.
A possible sign of childhood liver cancer is a lump or pain in the abdomen, which is one common symptom when a tumor has become large. Consult a doctor if your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms:
A series of tests and procedures are used to diagnose childhood liver cancer. Initially your child's doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual.
Other tests may include:
How liver cancer is treated is dependent on several factors:
Childhood liver cancer may be cured if the tumor is small and completely removed by surgery. Successful removal of a tumor is possible more often for hepatoblastoma than for hepatocellular carcinoma.
Taking those factors into consideration, treatment options can include partial hepatectomy, which is removing the part of the liver where the cancer is found; total hepatectomy and liver transplant; radiation; and chemotherapy.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.