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What is hepatoblastoma?

Hepatoblastoma is a type of liver cancer that is usually found in babies and children up to age 3.

How common is hepatoblastoma?

Hepatoblastoma is rare, diagnosed in fewer than one in a million children.

Children have a higher risk for developing hepatoblastoma if they have one of more of the following factors:

  • Were born prematurely with very low birth weights
  • Have hemihyperplasia—one side of the body growing faster than the other
  • Have an inherited condition called familial adenomatous polyposis. Affected family members develop multiple, initially noncancerous polyps in the colon that become cancerous if not removed.
  • Have Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome. Babies with this disorder are large at birth; develop low blood sugar; and often have large tongues, large internal organs and problems in the area near their “belly buttons.”

What are the symptoms of hepatoblastoma?

Symptoms of hepatoblastoma include the following:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Pain in the abdomen (belly)
  • Back pain
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellowish eyes and/or skin (jaundice)
  • Pale skin and lips (may mean anemia)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

How is hepatoblastoma treated?

  • Surgery — is used to remove all of the tumor. It is the most important part of treatment. If the entire liver is affected, a liver transplant may be needed to remove all of the tumor.
    • In about half of all children with hepatoblastoma, the tumors are small, and surgeons can remove them right away.
    • If the tumor is large, the patient will usually have chemotherapy before surgery, to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove.
  • Chemotherapy (“chemo”) — uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing (dividing) and making more cancer cells:
    • Chemo for this cancer is injected into the bloodstream, so that it can travel throughout the body.
    • Combination therapy uses more than one type of chemo at a time.

What are the survival rates for hepatoblastoma?

  • The survival rate is more than 80% if the tumor is only in the liver and can be completely removed with surgery after chemotherapy.
  • Survival rates for children whose tumors involve the entire liver or have spread outside the liver range from 20% to 70% at three to five years after diagnosis.

Why choose St. Jude for your child’s hepatoblastoma treatment?

  • St. Jude is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children.
  • St. Jude has created more clinical trials for cancer than any other children’s hospital in the United States.
  • The nurse-to-patient ratio at St. Jude is unmatched— averaging 1:3 in hematology and oncology, and 1:1 in the Intensive Care Unit.
  • St. Jude offers a dedicated team of specialists to meet the needs of children with hepatoblastoma, including: surgeons; doctors and nurses who treat this cancer; doctors who specialize in pathology (making a diagnosis by looking at tumor tissue under the microscope) and in radiation therapy; experts in diagnostic imaging and nuclear medicine; genetic counselors; nutritionists; child life specialists; psychologists; researchers; scientists; and many others.
  • Complete, quality surgery is an important part of treating hepatoblastoma. The expert skills and experience of St. Jude specialty surgeons can help improve patients’ chances for best outcomes.
  • St. Jude has access to new “experimental” medicines that can be used if the cancer comes back or becomes resistant to the initial treatment.

The St. Jude website is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services. The information provided through this site should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.