In an interesting contrast to other organs, the liver doesn’t display signs of distress. Unlike the heart, the liver doesn’t beat when it feels worrying. Unlike the stomach, the liver doesn’t make growling noises when a person gets hungry. As long as the liver stays hale and hearty, it’s easy for a person to ignore it. However, we cannot ignore its importance in maintaining total physical health.
Though a liver works behind the scene, it is one of the largest and the most important organs in a human body. It performs 300+ functions and helps some of the other organs of the human body to do their jobs.
Here in this article, our focus will be on pediatric liver cancer, how it is diagnosed, its symptoms, treatment, and risk factors.
What is Pediatric Liver Cancer?
Pediatric liver cancer is one of the most common types of liver cancer of childhood but typically it affects only 1% of children in a million during the first three years of their life. Childhood liver cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the child’s liver.
Usually, liver tumors in children are exceptional and not detected clinically. However when they expand significantly, spread within the organ, or metastasize to other parts of the body then these become visible with the appropriate tests. If physicians verify that the diseased liver will not continue performing to its potential, or if the patient won’t survive without a new liver, then they will need to undergo a Pediatric Liver transplant.
Types of Childhood Liver Cancer
Usually, there are two most common types of liver cancer in children.
It is the type of liver cancer that generally does not spread outside the liver. This type of liver cancer usually affects children younger than 3 years old.
2) Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC)
It is a type of liver cancer that typically spreads to other places in the body. Children aged 14 to 16 years are more susceptible to this type of cancer.
Risk Factors for Liver Cancer
Risk factors for hepatoblastoma include the following:
- Male Gender
- Having FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis)
- Having Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
- Certain genetic changes, such as Trisomy 18.
- Glycogen storage disease
If the newborn weighs less than 3.5 pounds, then too, the child will be at risk.
Risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma include the following:
- Male Gender.
- Having hepatitis B or C. The risk is greatest when the virus is passed from a mother to a child at birth.
- Liver damage caused by certain diseases, like biliary cirrhosis or tyrosinemia.
- Progressive familial intrahepatic disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Pediatric Liver Cancer
Some of the most common pediatric liver cancer symptoms are:
- Tummy ache or weight loss
- Onset of puberty
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosis of Pediatric Liver Cancer
The below is a list of diagnostics that a patient may have to undergo in case of signs of Pediatric Liver Cancer
1) Diagnostic Tests: The first step would be a comprehensive physical assessment. The doctor will extract information on previous medical history (if any) and family history on liver health.
2) Blood Tests: A complete blood work and liver function tests will check for specific metrics like alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels. This is a good indication of the presence of liver cancer in the child.
3) Imaging Tests: Imaging tests incorporate
- CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
- MRI scans
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans
4) Biopsy: In this, a microscopic examination of a portion of the liver tissue with cancerous cell will check for signs of cancer. A biopsy may be done by:
- Core biopsy
- Surgical biopsy
- Fine needle aspiration
Treatment of Pediatric Liver Cancer
Pediatric liver cancer treatments depend on the type and stage of a child’s diseases as well as the child’s age and general health.
There are usually the following types of standard treatments are used to treat childhood liver cancer.
Surgery is usually done to remove cancer and part of the liver where the cancer is found.
2) Liver Transplantation
When a child is suffering from an early stage of liver cancer then a pediatric liver transplant may be an option. In this, a surgeon will replace the liver with a doctor’s healthy liver.
In chemotherapy usually, some drugs are used to kill cancer cells. It will be done before surgery to reduce the size of the liver cancer or after surgery to kill any remaining cells.
When a child needs treatment for a liver tumor, the feeling is devastating. But, one should never think he/she is alone. To find support, parents can talk to their child’s doctor or a hospital social worker. These days, many resources such as non-profit organizations like TAPF, Ketto are available to help parents and their children going through a difficult time.TPAF can help raise funds needed for liver transplant and also provide the right emotional and knowledge support needed for the child and the parents.