Symptoms and Diagnosis of Liver Tumors in Children

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Liver Tumors in Children


What are the symptoms of a pediatric liver tumor?

The most common symptom of a childhood liver tumor is a lump or pain in the abdomen. The lump may be found during a child’s routine check-up. Symptoms can become worse as the tumor gets bigger and may also include:

  • swelling in the belly
  • unexplained weight loss
  • not feeling hungry
  • nausea and vomiting
  • a yellow color of the eyes or skin called jaundice

Because these symptoms can have other causes, see your child’s doctor to determine what may be causing them.

How are pediatric liver tumors diagnosed?

If we suspect a liver tumor, your child will have imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan, or MRI. This shows us where the tumor is and whether it has spread beyond the liver, such as to the lungs. Other tests we use to determine the cause of your child’s symptoms include:

  • a physical exam
  • blood tests for tumor indicators (markers), such as the protein AFP, which is usually high in children with hepatoblastoma
  • other blood tests to see the child’s blood counts and liver function

The next step is a biopsy of the tumor, where a doctor takes a small sample of the tumor tissue. Our surgeons get this sample while your child is comfortable and asleep under anesthesia. MSK Kids pathologists (doctors who specialize in diagnosing disease) study the tumor tissue under a microscope and determine whether or not it is cancer, and if so, what type.

Once we make a diagnosis, your child’s care team will “stage” the cancer. This shows us the extent of the tumor’s growth and gives us important information on how to best care for your child.

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