Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center in Boston, MA, treats all primary liver tumors occurring in children and young adults. The two most common types of liver tumors are hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma. We care for both newly diagnosed liver cancer and for children with relapsed disease.
We have some of the most experienced pediatric liver cancer doctors and internationally recognized pediatric subspecialists who use sophisticated technology and therapies to maximize outcomes for our patients.
In addition to a complete physical examination and medical history, our doctors use a variety of tests to diagnose liver cancer in children. These tests range from blood laboratories (to assess organ function and measure proteins excreted by the tumors), to advanced imaging studies (ultrasound, computerized tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging). Ultimately, the diagnosis is confirmed by tumor biopsy.
Surgical removal of the tumor remains very important to achieving a cure for children with both hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma. This may involve partial removal of the liver or, in rare cases, a total hepatectomy (removal of the liver) and liver transplant (in which your child's liver is replaced with a liver from a donor). If surgery is deemed too risky or is likely to leave part of the tumor behind, the child may be treated initially with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. With prompt treatment, hepatoblastoma is remarkably responsive to chemotherapy. Hepatocellular carcinoma is less responsive to chemotherapy, therefore surgery is key. Surgery may be more difficult for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma as this type of cancer often metastasizes, can involve multiple parts of the liver, and can occur in patients with underlying liver disease.
Doctors may also perform a procedure called chemoembolization or radioembolization of the hepatic artery which can allow direct delivery of therapy via the main blood vessel in the liver to the sites of disease.
Dana-Farber/Boston Children's patients have access to the broadest set of pediatric and oncologic expertise available. The breadth of our expertise allows us to assemble a team of specialists to meet the specific needs of each patient.
At the core of the treatment team is a medical oncologist who specializes in treating liver cancer. Many of our physicians are also active researchers, so our patients have access to the very best and up-to-date treatments available.
From there, we build a team that is best suited to carry out the patient’s treatment plan, including hepatologists (liver specialists), radiation oncologists, interventional radiologists, surgeons, pathologists, and transplant physicians.
We round out the team with experts who help the child prepare for life during and after treatment, including psychiatrists and psychologists, child life specialists, social workers, nutritionists, and school specialists.
Suzanne Shusterman MD describes MIBG therapy, a treatment available at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's and only a few other centers in the nation.