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


The decision as to which surgical approach to use depends on many factors including the following:

  • PRETEXT stage.
  • Size of the primary tumor.
  • Presence of multifocal hepatic disease.
  • Vascular involvement.
  • AFP levels.
  • Whether preoperative chemotherapy may convert an unresectable tumor into a potentially resectable tumor.
  • Whether hepatic disease meets surgical and histopathologic criteria for orthotopic liver transplantation.

In North American clinical trials, the Children's Oncology Group (COG) has recommended that surgery be performed initially if a complete resection can be accomplished (refer to the Postsurgical Staging for Childhood Liver Cancer section of this summary for more information). COG is investigating the use of PRETEXT stage at diagnosis and after chemotherapy to determine the optimal surgical approach and its timing (COG-AHEP0731).

Orthotopic liver transplantation

Liver transplantation has recently been associated with significant success in the treatment of children with unresectable hepatic tumors.[11,12,13,14][Level of evidence: 3iiA] A review of the world experience has documented a posttransplant survival rate of 70% to 80% for children with hepatoblastomas.[10,15,16] Intravenous invasion, positive lymph nodes, and contiguous spread did not have a significant adverse effect on outcome. It has been suggested that adjuvant chemotherapy following transplant may decrease the risk of tumor recurrence.[17]

There are discrepant results on the outcomes for patients with lung metastases at diagnosis who undergo orthotopic liver transplantation following complete resolution of lung disease in response to pretransplant chemotherapy. Some studies have reported favorable outcomes for this group of patients,[10] while others have noted high rates of hepatoblastoma recurrence.[16,18] All of these studies are limited by small patient numbers; further study is needed to better define outcomes for this subset of patients.

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) Standard Transplant and Research Files registry reported all children younger than 18 years listed for a liver transplant in the United States from October 1987 through July 2004. Of these children, 135 had hepatoblastoma and 41 had hepatocellular carcinoma and both groups received liver transplant with 5-year survival rates of 69% for hepatoblastoma and 63% for hepatocellular carcinoma. The 10-year survival rates were similar to the 5-year rates.[19,20] In a separate three-institution study for children with hepatocellular carcinoma, the overall 5-year disease-free survival rate was approximately 60%.[21] Application of the Milan criteria for UNOS selection of recipients of deceased donor livers is controversial.[22] However, living donor liver transplants are more common with children and the outcome is similar.[18,23] In hepatocellular carcinoma, vascular invasion, distant metastases, lymph node involvement, tumor size, and male gender were significant risk factors for recurrence. Because of the poor prognosis in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, liver transplant should be considered for disorders such as tyrosinemia and familial intrahepatic cholestasis early in the course, prior to the development of liver failure and malignancy.


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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