Hepatoblastoma and Other Rare Liver Tumors


Hepatoblastoma is a rare cancerous tumor that begins in a child’s liver, but can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, most commonly to the lungs. It predominantly affects young children (under age 5). While the exact cause is unknown, some genetic conditions, hepatitis B infection, and biliary atresia (a blockage in the ducts that carry bile) can put a child at increased risk.

At the Solid Tumor Oncology Program, part of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, we provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for children with hepatoblastoma and other liver tumors such as hepatocarcinoma, hepatic adenoma and hamartomas.

Our dedicated team of specialists evaluates your child in a single visit, and will create a customized treatment plan and begin your individualized treatment plan immediately. We are one of the first in the nation to offer this type of collaborative care for children with cancer. We are also one of the nation’s largest multidisciplinary programs caring for children with solid tumors, and have the largest pediatric oncology research effort in the state.

Our Tumor Board meets weekly to discuss the care and treatment of children who are newly diagnosed with cancer, those currently on therapy, and families seeking a second opinion. Pediatric oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians attend the Tumor Board, allowing for our collective expertise to provide thorough, comprehensive approach to the care of children with cancer.

Hepatoblastoma and Liver Tumor Symptoms

Symptoms will vary depending on tumor size and whether or not the cancer has spread. Symptoms can include:

  • A large abdominal mass
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight Loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes)
  • Anemia (not enough healthy red blood cells to get oxygen through the body, making you feel weak and cold)
  • Back pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Fever

Comprehensive Diagnostic Care

Diagnosis begins with a thorough health history and a comprehensive physical examination. Some testing will be required and may include blood work, an alpha–fetoprotein test (a protein produced by the liver that can be used both for diagnosing and determining response to treatment), an x-ray, an ultrasound, a CT scan, and an MRI. A liver biopsy, most commonly performed by making a small incision in the abdomen and inserting a thin needle through the abdomen into the liver, is performed to remove a small piece of tissue for examination under a microscope.

Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor will stage the tumor, which determines if and how far the cancer has spread. Staging the tumor will help determine a treatment plan.

Comprehensive Treatment Alternatives

Every child’s treatment plan is individualized, based on the patient’s needs and the specific tumor, utilizing cutting-edge technology and the latest research. Treatment options include:

Surgery – the standard therapy for treating hepatoblastoma and other liver tumors is surgery to remove the tumor. Prior to surgery, a child may require chemotherapy treatment to reduce the size of the tumor. The liver tissue has the ability to regenerate until it is the appropriate size again.

Surgery to remove tumors is performed by our renowned pediatric general surgery team, each of whom specializes in minimally invasive approaches to tumor resection whenever possible.  Learn more about pediatric surgery at Mott Children’s Hospital.

Chemotherapy – following surgery, chemotherapy is generally recommended. Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with drugs that can destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy includes a variety of drugs that are given in a variety of ways. We provide all available chemotherapy options, including continuous infusion chemotherapy, which is given slowly over one or more days through a pump that you carry with you.

Chemo-embolization – a minimally invasive procedure where chemotherapy beads are injected directly into the tumor.

Radiofrequency ablation – a needle placed into the tumor uses radiofrequency waves to destroy tumor tissue, often without requiring surgery.

Liver transplant – a liver transplant improves the length and quality of life of children whose own livers have failed. The Pediatric Liver Transplant Program at the University of Michigan is part of the first and largest liver transplant program in the state, and one of the original transplant centers in the country. We are one of a handful of centers nationwide to offer liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma.

Clinical trials – Our specialists are at the center of developing new therapies for cancer. In fact, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is one of only a few pediatric centers in the country providing patients access to Phase 1 clinical trials.  Phase 1 clinical trials give patients at University of Michigan access to pivotal early-stage studies, connecting families to novel treatment therapies to patients before they are widely available.

At any time, you can ask your doctor or any of our health care professionals about clinical trial participation opportunities or you can view or sign up for studies that are currently recruiting participants at umhealthresearch.org.

Take the next step:

For more information or to make an appointment, call 734-936-9814.