Tumors happen when cells form a mass or growth. Liver tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
What Are Liver Tumors?
The liver is the body's largest solid organ. It has many jobs, including:
- cleaning the blood of toxins
- making bile, which helps break down food during digestion
- storing energy in the form of a sugar called glycogen
A liver tumor can form if cells in the liver grow in a way they shouldn't.
What Are the Types of Liver Tumors?
Liver tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Benign tumors can happen at different ages. Some babies might be born with one. Others form early in life, but might not be found until later. Types of benign liver tumors include:
- mesenchymal hamartoma
Malignant tumors happen less often than benign tumors. The most common types of liver cancer are:
- Hepatoblastoma: This is most common in young children (usually younger than 3 years old).
- Hepatocellular carcinoma: This is more common in adults but can affect older children.
- Rhabdoid tumor of the liver: This cancer begins in the liver, then can spread quickly to other parts of the body. These are very rare tumors. When they do happen, they most often affect babies and toddlers.
- Undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma of the liver (UESL): Most cases of this rare cancer happen in children 6 to 10 years old.
What Causes Liver Tumors?
The cause of many malignant liver tumors isn't known. But some health conditions make it more likely for a child to develop one.
Hepatoblastoma is more likely to happen in boys and in kids with:
- Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, a disorder that can cause too much growth in the body, including the organs
- familial adenomatous polyposis, a condition that causes polyps (small growths) in the large intestine
- a very low birth weight or being born early
Hepatocellular carcinoma is more common in children who have:
- conditions connected with cirrhosis (long-term damage) of the liver, like hereditary hemochromatosis, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, glycogen storage disease, and other liver diseases
How Are Liver Tumors Treated?
Surgery to remove a tumor usually is the best and most effective treatment for children with benign or malignant liver tumors.
Sometimes doctors can just keep an eye on benign tumors if they don't cause serious symptoms. If a benign tumor gets very large or causes a problem, a surgeon will remove it. When this happens, usually no other treatment is needed.
For a malignant liver tumor:
- Chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and surgery work well when a hepatocellular tumor is found early.
- Radioembolization (also called transarterial radioembolization with yttrium-90 or TARE-Y90) is a procedure that delivers radiation treatment right to the tumor.
In some cases, a child with a malignant liver tumor may need a liver transplant.
What Else Should I Know?
When your child needs treatment for a tumor, it can feel overwhelming. But you're not alone. To find support, talk to anyone on the care team or a hospital social worker. Many resources are available to help you and your child get through this difficult time.
You also can find information and support online at:
- National Cancer Institute
- American Childhood Cancer Organization
- American Liver Foundation