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Liver Tumors

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

Sometimes cells in the liver grow in a way they shouldn't and form a tumor .

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 may be present at birth or early in life, though they might not be found until later. Types of benign liver tumors include:

Malignant tumors happen less often than benign tumors. The most common types of liver cancer are:

A rhabdoid tumor of the liver is a cancer that begins in the liver, then often spreads quickly to other parts of the body. These are very rare tumors. But when to they do happen, they most often affect babies and toddlers.

Undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma of the liver (UESL) is a rare kind of liver cancer. Most cases 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 person 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 inside the body
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis, a condition that causes polyps (small growths) in the large intestine
  • very low birth weight/prematurity

Hepatocellular carcinoma is more common in children who have:

  • hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections
  • 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?

Surgical removal is usually 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.
  • Hepatocellular tumors can be challenging to treat. They are hard to remove surgically and often do not respond well to chemotherapy.

In some cases, a child with a malignant liver tumor may need a liver transplant.

Looking Ahead

When your child needs treatment for a tumor, it can feel overwhelming. But you're not alone. To find support, talk to your child's doctor 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:

Reviewed by: Howard M. Katzenstein, MD;Allison Aguado, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-01-2019

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