General Information About Childhood Liver Cancer
Childhood liver cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the liver.
The liver is one of the largest organs in the body. It has four lobes and fills the upper right side of the abdomen inside the rib cage. The liver has many important functions, including:
- Filtering harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
- Making bile to help digest fats from food.
- Storing glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.
Anatomy of the liver. The liver is in the upper abdomen near the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, and pancreas. The liver has four lobes. Two lobes are on the front and two small lobes (not shown) are on the back of the liver.
Liver cancer is rare in children and adolescents (teenagers). There are two main types of childhood liver cancer:
- Hepatoblastoma: A type of liver cancer that usually does not spread outside the liver. This type usually affects children younger than 3 years old.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma: A type of liver cancer that often spreads to other places in the body. This type usually affects children older than 14 years old.
The treatment of two less common types of childhood liver cancer is also discussed in this summary:
- Undifferentiatedembryonalsarcoma of the liver (UESL): The third most common liver cancer in children and adolescents. It usually occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 10 years.
- Infantile choriocarcinoma of the liver: A very rare tumor that appears to start in the placenta and spreads to the fetus. The tumor is usually found during the first few months of life.
This summary refers to the treatment of primary liver cancer (cancer that begins in the liver). Treatment of metastatic liver cancer, which is cancer that begins in other parts of the body and spreads to the liver, is not discussed in this summary. Primary liver cancer can occur in both adults and children. Treatment for children, however, is different than treatment for adults. (See the PDQ summary on Adult Primary Liver Cancer Treatment for more information.)
Certain diseases and disorders can increase the risk of developing childhood liver cancer.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for hepatoblastoma include the following:
- Being male.
- Having familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
- Having Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome.
- Having had a very low weight at birth.
Risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma include the following:
- Being male.
- Having hepatitis B or hepatitis C. The risk is greatest when the virus is passed from mother to child at birth.
- Having liver damage caused by certain diseases, such as biliarycirrhosis or tyrosinemia.