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

Many of the improvements in survival in childhood cancer have been made using new therapies that have attempted to improve on the best available, accepted therapy. Clinical trials in pediatrics are designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. This comparison may be done in a randomized study of two treatment arms or by evaluating a single new treatment, comparing the results with those previously obtained with standard therapy.

Because of the relative rarity of cancer in children, all children with liver cancer should be considered for entry into a clinical trial. Treatment planning by a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists with experience treating tumors of childhood is required to determine and implement optimum treatment.[1]

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Historically, complete surgical resection of the primary tumor has been required to cure malignant liver tumors in children.[2,3,4,5]; [6][Level of evidence: 3iiA] Complete surgical resection of the primary tumor continues to be the goal of definitive surgical procedures, but surgical resection is often combined with other treatment modalities (e.g., chemotherapy) to achieve this goal.

Surgical Approaches

There are three ways in which surgery is used to treat primary pediatric liver cancer:

  • Initial surgical resection (alone or followed by chemotherapy).
  • Delayed surgical resection (chemotherapy followed by surgery).
  • Orthotopic liver transplantation.

The timing of the surgical approach is critical. For this reason, surgeons with experience in pediatric liver resection and transplantation should be involved early in the decision-making process for determining optimal timing and extent of resection. In children and adolescents with primary liver tumors, the surgeon has to be prepared to perform a highly sophisticated liver resection after confirmation of the diagnosis by pathological investigation of intraoperative frozen sections. While complete surgical resection is important for all liver tumors, this is especially true for hepatocellular carcinoma because no effective chemotherapy is available.

If the tumor can be completely excised by an experienced surgical team, less postoperative chemotherapy may be needed. If the tumor is determined to be unresectable and preoperative chemotherapy is to be administered, it is very important to frequently consult with the surgical team concerning the timing of resection, as prolonged chemotherapy can lead to unnecessary delays and, in rare cases, tumor progression.

Early involvement with an experienced pediatric liver surgeon is especially important in patients with PRETEXT stage 3 or 4 disease, involvement of major liver vessels, and low alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels.[7] While vascular involvement was initially thought to be a contraindication to resection, experienced liver surgeons are able to perform aggressive approaches avoiding transplantation.[7,8]; [9][Level of evidence: 3iiA] Accomplishing a complete resection is imperative because rescue transplant of incompletely resected patients has an inferior outcome compared with patients who are transplanted as the primary surgical therapy.[10]


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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