A Primer on Liver Tumors in Children

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Liver tumors are among the most common types of tumors in children. These tumors – which are more often malignant than benign – pose a risk to children by changing the way that their liver functions. They can also cause damage to other organs if they grow too big and spread outside of the liver. Liver tumors are sometimes hard to diagnose, but often have symptoms both internally and externally. There are treatment options that can reduce the tumor or even remove it, but these treatment plans are limited due to the fact that children heal differently than adults.

Symptoms

The symptoms of a liver tumor can be minor and can frequently resemble symptoms of other conditions. Staying familiar with your child’s personality and behaviors can be the best indicator that something seems “off.”

Children that have a liver tumor may become suddenly lethargic and lose energy. They can lose weight with seemingly no reason at all, and a child that normally eats well can suddenly lose their appetite. Tumors that are affecting the function of the liver will cause a child to become jaundiced, or have a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Complications

Because a liver tumor affects the way liver functions, it can cause complications in children. The liver tumor can grow to a size that completely disables the liver, grow too large to fit in the liver, and spread outside of the liver. The most severe complication that comes from a liver tumor is the spreading of cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Children that have a liver tumor have a 65% survival rate. Children that have a liver tumor that causes cancer to spread to other parts of the body, including the lungs, have a 20% survival rate. The liver tumor can also cause other complications, including infection, and needs to be promptly treated by a pediatric oncologist.

Treatment

Treatment for liver tumors varies from child to child. Many doctors choose to remove the tumor before they decide on radiological treatment or chemotherapy. It is often hard for doctors to tell exactly how big the tumor is because of the placement of the liver in the ribcage. Once doctors have gone into the liver to remove the tumor, it is possible to find that the tumor is larger or has spread to other parts of the body.

This can pose a complication for doctors because they cannot remove too much of a tumor without compromising the function of the liver. When oncologists find that a tumor is too big to remove or has spread to other areas, they will generally opt to do radiological treatment or chemotherapy to reduce the size of the tumor.