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Childhood Liver Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information

Table 1. Risk Factors Associated With Hepatoblastoma and Hepatocellular Carcinoma continued...

Several specific types of nonviral liver injury and cirrhosis are associated with hepatocellular carcinoma in children, including tyrosinemia and biliary cirrhosis. Tyrosinemia patients should be screened for hepatoblastoma on a regular basis, whether or not they are treated with 2-(2 nitro-4-3 trifluoro-methylbenzoyl)-1, 3-cyclohexanedione.[27] Hepatocellular carcinoma may also arise in very young children with mutations in the bile salt export pump ABCB11, which causes progressive familial hepatic cholestasis.[24] Despite these findings, cirrhosis in children, compared with cirrhosis in adults, is much less commonly involved in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma, and is found in only 20% to 35% of livers bearing childhood hepatocellular carcinoma tumors.


A biopsy of the tumor is always indicated to secure the diagnosis of a liver tumor except:

  • In infants with hepatic hemangiomas or hemangioendotheliomas, which can be diagnosed by imaging.
  • In infantile hepatic choriocarcinoma, which can be diagnosed by imaging and markedly elevated beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG).[39]

The AFP and beta-hCG tumor markers are very helpful in diagnosis and management of liver tumors. Although AFP is elevated in most children with hepatic malignancy, it is not pathognomonic for a malignant liver tumor.[40] The AFP level can be elevated due to a benign tumor, as well as a malignant solid tumor. AFP is very high in neonates and steadily falls after birth. The half-life of AFP is 5 to 7 days, and by age 1 year, it should be less than 10 ng/ml.[41]


Treatment-related factors

Cure of hepatoblastoma or hepatocellular carcinoma requires gross tumor resection. If a hepatoblastoma is completely removed, the majority of patients survive, but less than one-third of patients have lesions amenable to complete resection at diagnosis. Thus, it is critically important that a child with probable hepatoblastoma be evaluated by a pediatric surgeon who is experienced in the resection of hepatoblastoma in children and has access to a liver transplant program.

Chemotherapy can often decrease the size and extent of hepatoblastoma, allowing complete resection.[10,11,12,42,43] Orthotopic liver transplantation provides an additional treatment option for patients whose tumor remains unresectable after preoperative chemotherapy;[43,44,45] however, the presence of microscopic residual tumor at the surgical margin does not preclude a favorable outcome.[46,47] This may be due to the additional courses of chemotherapy that are administered before or after resection for patients with stage I and pure fetal histology and after resection for all other patients.[10,11,47]

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