Liver tumors

What are liver tumors?

A liver tumor is an abnormal growth or collection of cells that occur in the liver. These cells may come from the liver lining of blood vessels or from other organs in your body. A tumor can be benign (not cancer) and stay in the liver or malignant (cancer) and spread to other locations.  Liver tumors are discovered in many different ways. 

About liver tumors in children

Benign liver tumor

Benign liver tumors include hemangiomas, hamartomas, adenomas, and focal nodular hyperplasia. A hemangioma is a collection of blood vessels that form in the liver. This is the most common benign liver tumor. One third are found in infants that are younger than 3 months. The remaining two thirds are discovered in infants less than 1 year. About half of patients with this tumor will present with anemia and may have to work harder to pump blood around their body.

Malignant liver tumor

Hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatoblastomas are malignant liver tumors in children. In one of five children, the tumor will have spread to other organs at the time that it is found. Heptocellular carcinoma is the second most common malignant tumor. This typically occurs in children around the age of ten years. Children with this tumor will tend to have weight loss, fevers, and pain and swelling in the right upper part of the stomach. They may feel tired and may not want to eat. Unfortunately, by the time this tumor is found, it has often spread to other parts of the body. 

What are the symptoms of a liver tumor?

Liver tumors are discovered in many different ways. These include feeling a large mass in the belly, the belly growing bigger or distended, or having poor weight gain.

How are liver tumors diagnosed in children?

If your doctor suspects that your child may have a liver tumor, they may order imaging.  They may order blood tests to see if they can find out what type of tumor it is or if other areas of the body are sick.  Your doctor may order a biopsy, which is a small piece of liver that is removed either surgically or with a needle. Other doctors, called pathologists, will look at this piece of liver to see what type of tumor it is.

What is the treatment for liver tumors?

Benign liver tumor

Depending on how large the tumor is, how many are present, and how sick or well your child is, your doctor may decide to treat with medications or surgery. 

Malignant liver tumor

Heptoblastomas are treated with both chemotherapy (a medication used to treat cancer) and surgery to remove the tumor. Only surgical remove of the tumor will cure this cancer. Sometimes, if the tumor is large, your child may need the liver taken out completely and a new liver to replace it. This is called liver transplantation. Chemotherapy often does not work well in treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma. If the tumor has not invaded other parts of the body, surgery to remove part of the liver or liver transplantation is recommended.

What is the long-term outlook of liver tumors in children?

Benign liver tumor

Some small tumors can often be left alone and monitored with imaging. Some tumors require medication or surgery. However, nearly all hemangiomas recur with treatment.

Malignant liver tumors

Chemotherapy, surgery or liver transplantation may be needed to treat these tumors.

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