Childhood liver cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the liver. When then cancer cells form first in the tissues of the liver, it is primary liver cancer. When it spreads to the liver from another part of the body, it is secondary liver cancer. Liver cancer is rare in children and teenagers.
The two main types of childhood liver cancer are:
- Hepatoblastoma, a type of liver cancer that usually does not spread outside the liver. This type usually affects children younger than 3 years of age.
- Hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer that often spreads to other places in the body. This type usually affects older children and teenagers.
Less common types of childhood liver cancer include:
- Undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma of the liver (UESL), which often spreads all through the liver or to the lungs. It usually occurs in children between 5 and 10 years of age.
- Infantile choriocarcinoma of the liver, a very rare tumor that starts in the placenta and spreads to the fetus. The tumor is usually found during the first few months of life.
- Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, a rare cancer of the blood vessels that occurs in the liver and other organs.
What does the liver do?
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. Three important functions of the liver are:
- To filter harmful substances from the blood so they can be passed from the body in stools and urine.
- To make bile to help digest fats from food.
- To store glycogen (sugar), which the body uses for energy.
Liver cancer treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's
Patients with liver cancer are treated through the Liver Tumor Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. We have some of the most experienced pediatric liver cancer oncologists, surgeons and pathologists – as well as internationally recognized pediatric subspecialists who use sophisticated technology and therapies to maximize outcomes for our patients.