Hepatoblastoma in Children
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What is hepatoblastoma in children?
Hepatoblastoma is a very rare cancer that starts in the liver. It usually affects
children less than 3 years of age. About half of all children with it are diagnosed
before age 1. It usually doesn’t spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
What causes hepatoblastoma in a child?
The cancer is caused by gene changes in liver cells. The reason why this happens is
Which children are at risk for hepatoblastoma?
Some genetic health conditions increase a child's risk. These include:
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
Glycogen storage diseases
Babies born at a very low birth weight also seem to be at higher risk.
What are the symptoms of hepatoblastoma in a child?
Symptoms depend on the size of the tumor. They tend to be different in each child.
They can include:
The symptoms of hepatoblastoma are a lot like those of many other health conditions.
Still, it's important to take your child to see a healthcare provider if you notice
these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if your child has cancer.
How is hepatoblastoma diagnosed in a child?
You may take your child to a healthcare provider because of a lump, swelling, pain
in the belly (abdomen), or other symptoms. The healthcare provider will ask about
your child's symptoms. A physical exam, focusing on the abdomen, will be done. Your
child may need to see a pediatric oncologist. This is a doctor with special training
in diagnosing and treating cancer in children. Your child may need tests such as:
Blood tests. These tests look for signs of illness. They check for blood clotting problems, liver
and kidney function, tumor markers, gene problems, and more.
Ultrasound (US) exam. Sound waves are used to create images of the inside of your child's abdomen. This
is often one of the first tests used to look at the liver.
CT scan. A series of X-rays and a computer are used to make images of the inside of the body.
This may be done to look at blood vessels in the liver.
MRI. Large magnets, radio waves, and a computer are used to make detailed images of the
inside of the body. This may also be done to look at blood vessels in the liver.
Tumor biopsy. A tiny piece (called a sample) of the tumor can be taken and checked for cancer cells.
A biopsy is needed to diagnose hepatoblastoma. It may be done with a needle or during
After a diagnosis of hepatoblastoma, your child will need more tests. These help your
child's healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They'll show how big the
tumor is and how far the cancer has spread inside your child's liver. Two groupings
are then assigned:
Both groupings use Roman numerals and can have a value of I (1), II (2), III (3),
or IV (4). The higher the number, the more parts (lobes) of the liver involved and
the more advanced the cancer is.
These groupings are important to know when deciding how to treat the cancer. Be sure
to ask your healthcare provider to explain your child's PRETEXT and POSTTEXT groupings
in a way you can understand.
How is hepatoblastoma treated in a child?
Talk with your child's healthcare team about your child's treatment options, the goals
of treatment, and what the risks and side effects may be.
Treatment will depend on the PRETEXT group and other factors. Hepatoblastoma can be
treated with any of these:
Surgery. This may be done to take a sample of the tumor for diagnosis. It's also done to remove as
much of the tumor as possible (resection). Surgery can be used to remove tumors in
other parts of the body, like the lungs.
Chemotherapy. These are strong medicines that kill cancer cells. They may be given before or after
surgery. They are given right into the blood through a vein (IV), as a shot (injection),
or by mouth (oral). The medicines may also be put right into the liver. This is done
with a tube (catheter) that goes into the liver's main artery. This is called chemoembolization
of hepatic artery. The chemo is mixed with a substance that blocks the flow of blood
to the tumor. This keeps the tumor from growing and spreading.
Liver transplant. If a tumor can’t be removed, the entire liver may be removed and replaced with a liver
from a donor.
Radiation therapy. These are high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation. Radiation is used to kill
cancer cells or stop them from growing. It isn't often used to treat hepatoblastoma.
But radioembolization might be an option in some cases. To do this, tiny radioactive
beads are put into the main artery in the liver that goes to the tumor. The beads
collect there and the radiation kills nearby cancer cells.
Clinical trials. Most children with cancer are treated as part of a clinical trial. Taking part in
a clinical trial means your child gets the best treatment available today, and might
also get new treatments that are thought to be even better. Before starting treatment,
ask your child's healthcare provider if there are any treatments being tested that
may work well for your child.
Supportive care. Treatment can cause side effects. Medicines and other treatments can be used for
pain, fever, infection, and nausea and vomiting.
Your child may have just one treatment or a combination of treatments. Tests will
be done during treatment to see how well it's working.
With any cancer, how well a child is expected to recover (prognosis) varies. Keep
Getting medical treatment right away is important for the best outcomes. Cancer that
has spread is harder to treat.
Ongoing follow-up care during and after treatment is needed.
New treatments are being tested to improve outcomes and lessen side effects.
What are possible complications of hepatoblastoma in a child?
Complications can be caused by the tumor or treatment, such as:
Infections and bleeding from surgery
Increased infections, bruising and bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, and tiredness
with some chemotherapy medicines
Problems with growth and development
Heart, kidney, or lung problems
Problems with liver function
Spreading cancer (metastasis)
Cancer that grows back
Growth of new cancers later in life
Rejection of the new liver and/or problems with anti-rejection medicines if a liver
transplant is needed
How can I help my child live with hepatoblastoma?
A child with a hepatoblastoma needs ongoing care. Your child will be seen by oncologists
and other healthcare providers to treat any late effects of treatment and to watch
for signs or symptoms of the tumor returning. Your child will be checked with imaging
tests and other tests. And your child may see other healthcare providers for problems
from the tumor or from treatment.
You can help your child manage cancer treatment in many ways. For instance:
Your child may have trouble eating. A dietitian may be able to help.
Your child may be very tired. They will need to balance rest and activity. Encourage
your child to get some exercise. This is good for overall health. And it may help
to lessen tiredness.
Get emotional support for your child. Find a counselor or child support group can
Make sure your child attends all follow-up appointments.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Your child's healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call. You may be
told to call if your child has:
Signs of infection, such as fever of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher, or as directed by
your child's healthcare provider
Symptoms that get worse
Side effects from treatment that affect their daily function or don't get better with
Ask your child's healthcare provider what signs to watch for and when to call. Know
how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Key points about hepatoblastoma in children
Hepatoblastoma is a very rare cancer (malignancy) that starts in the liver.
Symptoms include a lump (mass), swelling, and pain in the belly (abdomen).
Diagnosis is done with blood tests, imaging scans, and biopsy.
It may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and other methods.
Follow-up care is needed to watch for complications and cancer that comes back.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions the provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewers:
- Adam Levy MD
- Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
- L Renee Watson MSN RN