General Information About Childhood Liver Cancer
Possible signs of childhood liver cancer include a lump or pain in the abdomen.
Symptoms are more common after the tumor becomes large. Other conditions can cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
- A painless lump in the abdomen.
- Swelling or pain in the abdomen.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
- Loss of appetite.
- Early puberty in boys.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Tests that examine the liver and the blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose childhood liver cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Serum tumor marker test: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the blood. These are called tumor markers. The blood of children who have liver cancer may have increased amounts of a protein called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) or a hormone called beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG). Other cancers and certain noncancerous conditions, including cirrhosis and hepatitis, may also increase AFP levels.
- Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
- The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
- The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
- The portion of the blood sample made up of red blood cells.
- Liver function tests: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by the liver. A higher than normal amount of a substance can be a sign of liver cancer.
- Abdominalx-ray: An x-ray of the organs in the abdomen. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
- Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography. In childhood liver cancer, a CT scan of the chest and abdomen is usually done.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
- Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer. The sample may be taken during surgery to remove or view the tumor. A pathologist views the sample under a microscope to determine the type of liver cancer.