What is pediatric hepatoblastoma?

Hepatoblastoma is the most common type of liver cancer in children. It is a tumor which usually consists of embryonic or young liver cells.

What are the symptoms of hepatoblastoma in children?

Children who have hepatoblastoma are typically diagnosed when their parents or doctor notice a mass in the child’s abdomen. 

Sometimes the tumor is discovered when the patient complains of pain in the stomach or when a parent notices their child cradling the area or saying that their “tummy hurts”. 

A yellowing of the skin and eyes, called jaundice, can also signal that a child is ill. This condition often signals that the liver may be involved. 

In rare cases, boys may show signs of puberty at a very young age. Patients may be as young as 2-3 years old when the signs of early pubescence become apparent. This occurs when the tumor begins to secrete hormones, called beta-human choriogonadotropin hormone (β-HCG for short) , which trigger the body of male patients to start puberty at an abnormally young age. 

Like many other cancers, nausea and vomiting may also indicate the child is ill, but these symptoms may be so nonspecific that they are overlooked.

Who gets pediatric hepatoblastoma?

Hepatoblastoma is a very rare tumor. It occurs in approximately 1 to 2 children per million. In the United States there are about 100 cases per year. Factors that may increase the risk of pediatric hepatoblastoma: 

  • Having had a very low weight at birth,
  • Having many members in the family who have had colon polyps or colon cancer (a condition known as familial adenomatous polyposis or FAP), or
  • Having certain inherited condition such as:
    • Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome, 
    • trisomy 18, 
    • Simpson-Golabi-Behmel syndrome, 
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome or 
    • Glycogen storage type I-IV.

How do you treat hepatoblastoma in children?

Surgery, chemotherapy drugs (cancer fighting medicines) and, when necessary, liver transplant are the main current treatments for hepatoblastoma.

The particular treatment will be tailored to the patient and it will depend on whether the tumor has spread to organs other than the liver (this is called metastatic disease) and also on how difficult is to remove the tumor by surgery.

In most cases, the best treatment for hepatoblastoma is to remove the tumor. Unfortunately, only one-third to one-half of children who are newly diagnosed with hepatoblastoma have a tumor that can be removed by surgery at the time of presentation.

If the tumor cannot be removed by surgery (called unresectable), chemotherapy can sometimes shrink the tumor. Once the tumor has shrunk, it may be possible to remove the tumor by surgery.

If the tumor cannot be removed by surgery, either at diagnosis or after chemotherapy, the child may be evaluated for a liver transplant so that the entire liver and tumor can be removed and a new liver is put in to take the place of the old diseased one. Learn more about liver transplantation in children with liver tumors

What doctors treat hepatoblastoma at Texas Children's Hospital?

Oncologists from the Liver Tumor Program at Texas Children's Cancer Center and other departments at Texas Children's Hospital treat patients with liver tumors.

Related departments
Cancer and Hematology Center
Liver Tumor Program

Related health topics
Liver tumor imaging and Interventional Radiology
Liver transplantation in children with liver tumors