Most cancers which strike your child’s liver, the largest organ in their body, have metastasized from another site. Cancers which start in your child’s liver are rare.
Their liver rests under their ribs on their right side. It breaks down and stores nutrients absorbed from their intestine, secretes bile which their body uses to help absorb fats, removes harmful substances from their blood so they can be excreted and helps make clotting factors which keep them from bleeding too much when injured.
Your child’s liver receives oxygen-rich blood from their heart through the hepatic artery and nutrient- rich blood from their intestines through the portal vein. The liver is the only organ in their body that can regenerate itself.
Liver cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. Several types of tumors, including some that are benign or non-cancerous, also can grow in their liver.
Liver cancer accounts for 1 percent to 2 percent of cancers in children. Hepatoblastoma is the most common one and usually affects children 3 and younger. While a person does not need their entire liver to live a normal life, they cannot survive without one.
The short answer is “yes.” The numbers are on their side. Statistically, more than 70 percent of children survive liver cancers for five years or longer.
If found before the cancer spreads, more than 90 percent survive. Families should know that statistics will not drive the outcome for your child. Each person is different, so statistics cannot determine an individual’s outcome.
Your doctors will discuss your child’s liver cancer with you as well as other health conditions that may affect their outcome. At Children’s Cancer Center where research already has led to longer survival, doctors are searching for more and more ways for your child to defeat cancer.
Your child’s care team will include many specialists, including a pediatric oncologist, radiation oncologists, surgeons, nurses, nurse practitioners, pathologists, radiologists, transfusion medicine specialists, psychologists, medical technologists, counselors, child life specialists, teachers, dietitians and social workers. Everyone on this team has training and experience in working with children and cancer. Some team members you will see regularly. Others you may never meet.
Your child’s care team at Children's Cancer Center is part of Batson Children’s Hospital and UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute. This pediatric team specializes in treating cancers which affect children. In fact, this is the only place in the state that specializes in treating cancers in children.
Doctors also can offer your child the opportunity to enroll in clinical trials which test new treatments for many cancers. Doctors will take into consideration the type of cancer your child has, how advanced it is and other conditions they may have in making recommendations for their treatment.
Many of your child’s doctors also teach the state’s next generation of caregivers and do research on new ways to earlier diagnose cancers and to treat them. They have to know the latest ways to detect, diagnose and treat cancers and use that knowledge every day to treat the state’s children.