The liver is the largest solid organ found in the body. It performs functions such as cleaning the blood of toxins, making bile which helps in the breaking down of food during digestion and storing energy in the form of a sugar called glycogen. Sometimes the cells in the liver grow out of control and become cancerous. Though liver cancers are sporadic among children, any problems occurring in the liver should be treated carefully. The two types of childhood liver cancer are:
Hepatoblastoma: This usually occurs in the children below three years old and does not spread outside the liver.
Hepatocellular carcinoma: This affects children aged below 14 years and this type of liver cancer spreads to other body parts.
Apart from the above, there are also two less common types of childhood liver cancer, and they are:
Undifferentiated embryonal sarcoma of the liver (UESL): The third most common liver cancer found among children and adolescents. It occurs for children aged between 5 and 10 years.
Infantile Choriocarcinoma of the liver: This is a very rare type of tumour that appears to start in the placenta and spreads to the fetus. This is found in the first few years of life.
The symptoms of pediatric liver cancer are as follows:
A painless lump in the abdomen
Swelling or pain in the abdomen
Weight loss for an unknown reason
Loss of appetite
Early puberty in boys
Nausea and vomiting
When these symptoms persist, it is advisable to consult the Cancer specialist in Delhi.
Though the causes of liver cancer in children are unknown, but some of the health conditions make it more likely.
Hepatoblastoma is more likely with the following children:
Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome – a disorder that causes 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 likely in the following children:
Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C infections
Conditions connected with cirrhosis (long-term damage) of the liver like the hereditary hemochromatosis, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, glycogen storage disease and other liver diseases.
Certain factors affect the recovery and treatment options and they depend on the following:
The stage of cancer – the size of the tumour, whether it has spread to part or complete liver and whether it has spread to other body parts such as lungs
Whether cancer can be eliminated completely by surgery
The type of liver cancer
Whether cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred
Prognosis (chance of recovery) also depends on specific features of the cancer cell (how it looks under a microscope) and whether the AFP blood levels go down after chemotherapy begins.
There are different kinds of Liver Cancer Treatment in India for children suffering from liver cancer. Some of them are standard (that are currently used in the treatment) and some are being tested clinically trials. Some of the standard treatments involved are cryosurgery, partial hepatectomy, total hepatectomy and liver transplant and resection of metastases. This treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist who is a specialist in treating children with cancer. Apart from him, radiation oncologist, pediatric nurse specialist, rehabilitation specialist, psychologist and social workers are also involved in the treatment.