What are liver tumors?

Liver tumors are abnormal growths in the liver. They can be either cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign). Some common types of pediatric liver tumors include:

  • Hepatoblastoma. Although rare, hepatoblastoma is the most common type of liver cancer in children. It is most often found in children under age 5 and is more common in children born prematurely. Most children with this type of tumor do not have any other type of liver disease.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma. This is the second most common type of liver cancer in children. It is most common in teens, but it can also affect younger children. Hepatocellular carcinoma sometimes occurs in children who have another type of liver disease.
  • Hemangioma. This is a non-cancerous tumor made up of extra blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of liver tumors?

The symptoms of liver tumors can vary depending on the type of tumor. Hemangiomas often cause no symptoms. Common symptoms of hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma in children may include:

  • Belly pain
  • Swelling in the belly
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Back pain
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (a yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Itchy skin

What causes liver tumors?

In many cases, experts do not know what causes pediatric liver tumors. However, children with certain conditions or syndromes may be at slightly higher risk for some types of liver tumors. Children may be at higher risk for hepatoblastoma if they are born prematurely or have one of the following syndromes:

  • Trisomy 18 or trisomy 21
  • Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
  • Aicardi syndrome
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome
  • Type 1a glycogen storage disease (von Gierke disease)
  • Goldenhar syndrome
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis

Children may be at higher risk for hepatocellular carcinoma if they have an underlying liver disease, such as:

  • Autoimmune hepatitis or hepatitis B
  • Tyrosinemia
  • Biliary atresia
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Alagille syndrome

How are liver tumors treated?

Your child’s treatment for liver tumors depends on the type of tumor your child has. Your care team at Arkansas Children’s are experienced in treating all types of pediatric liver tumors and will work with your family to come up with the best treatment plan for your child’s specific type of liver tumor.

  • Your child may take medicine to slow the growth of a hemangioma.
  • Surgery may be used to remove a hemangioma if it is very large or is interfering with liver function.
  • Surgery is often used to treat hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible. However, some liver tumors are hard to remove. If the liver cancer cannot be removed, your child may need a liver transplant. This involves replacing your child’s liver with a healthy liver from a donor.
  • Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that shrinks and kills cancer cells. It may be given by mouth or by infusion into a vein. To treat liver cancer, your child may get chemotherapy before or after surgery to help shrink the tumor.

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