Hepatoblastoma is a cancer of the liver, caused by defective foetal cells, which usually occurs in young children up to the age of two years. It is extremely rare, affecting approximately 1 in every 100,000 babies and toddlers in the UK each year, with the incidence in the US being nearer to 1 in a million. There are generally no significant genetic or environmental factors that can cause this terrible disease.
The SIOPEL organisation, who lead studies into improving the prognosis and quality of life for children affected by liver tumours, provide a system to assess the seriousness of the disease.
- Stages I – III: Standard risk; the tumour has affected 1-3 segments of the liver
- Stage IV: High risk; the tumour has affected all 4 segements of the liver and/or has spread outside of the liver to a site such as the lungs
Hepatoblastoma usually presents through a distended abdomen of an otherwise healthy baby or toddler. To assess if the child is indeed suffering from Hepatoblastoma the following tests and investigations are carried out:
- Bloods – the results of this will say if the Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) level is raised; a strong indicator that the liver is cancerous
- Ultrasound – this will give an indication as to the size and positon of the tumour
- Chest x-ray – this will give an indication as to whether the cancer has spread to the lungs
- CT scan – this will give detailed full body 3D imaging to show specifically where the cancer has affected
- Biopsy – this will determine exactly what type of cancer it is; critically whether it is indeed Hepatoblastoma and not it’s more aggresive relative, Hepatocellular Carcinoma