Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma, also called liver carcinoma, is a rare, aggressive type of liver cancer. There are two predominant subtypes of hepatocellular carcinoma: conventional and fibrolamellar. Conventional hepatocellular carcinoma is more frequently diagnosed in adults and is often seen in conjunction with underlying liver disease (for example, cirrhosis). When diagnosed in children, hepatocellular carcinoma may be linked to hepatitis infection or genetic conditions. However, it often occurs in the context of a normal, healthy liver and is fundamentally felt to be a disease unique to that seen in adults. Fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma is a unique, rare entity apart from conventional hepatocellular carcinoma and requires novel and experienced approaches to care.

The primary functions of the liver include filtering and storing blood, processing the food we eat, and making vital proteins for the body to use.

Hepatocellular carcinoma traditionally affects children in adolescence and young adulthood. Rarely, it can occur in very young children.

What causes hepatocellular carcinoma in children?

Although the exact cause of hepatocellular carcinoma is unknown, it can occasionally occur in children with an underlying cause of liver dysfunction (such as chronic infection, autoimmune hepatitis, biliary atresia, glycogen storage diseases, alpha-1 antitrypsin, or tyrosinemia).

What are the symptoms of hepatocellular carcinoma in children?

Different children may experience symptoms differently, and symptoms may vary depending on the size of the tumor and whether the tumor has spread.

Your child's symptoms may include:

  • a large abdominal mass or a swollen abdomen
  • pain on the right side that may extend to the back and shoulder
  • back pain from compression of the tumor
  • decreased appetite and weight loss
  • vomiting
  • jaundice
  • fever
  • itching skin
  • anemia

How we care for hepatocellular carcinoma at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

Children with hepatocellular carcinoma are treated in the Liver Tumor Center at the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. We have some of the most experienced pediatric liver cancer oncologists and surgeons in the world, as well as internationally recognized pediatric subspecialists who use sophisticated technology and therapies to maximize outcomes for our patients.