What are liver tumors?

Liver tumors are masses formed when immature liver cells grow out of control.

The two main types of liver cancer in children are:


Hepatoblastoma is the most common type of liver cancer in children. It is most common in children younger than 6 years old.

Hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma is another type of liver cancer that's more common in older children and adults.

When it's healthy, the liver takes part in important functions. It helps filter harmful substances from the blood so they can leave the body as wastes. It makes bile, which helps digest fats. It also stores glycogen, the form of sugar that the body uses for energy.

Liver Tumors in Children

Cancer in children is rare, and liver cancer is one of the less common types. Doctors do not know what causes the disease. There are some factors that may increase a child's risk, but most children who have a liver tumor have none of these risk factors.

For example, children who have some rare genetic health problems, such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, are at greater risk for hepatoblastoma.

This is a risk factor, but most children with a liver tumor don't have this risk factor. They developed the tumor for unknown reasons.

Risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma include having hepatitis B or C, having liver damage caused by certain other health problems or having certain other rare conditions.

Boys are at greater risk for liver cancer than girls are.

Liver Cancer Stages

Staging refers to the way doctors classify cancer based on where it is in the body.

The cancer's stage, along with other factors, helps doctors choose a course of treatment. Children who have liver tumors are considered to be at one of these stages:

Stage 1 liver cancer

Doctors removed all the cancer through surgery.

Stage 2 liver cancer

Doctors removed all the cancer that could be seen without a microscope. Some cancer cells remain, or some may have gone into the belly during surgery.

Stage 3 liver cancer

Any one of these factors is true:

  • Doctors cannot remove the tumor through surgery.
  • After surgery there is still cancer large enough to be seen without a microscope.
  • The cancer has spread to lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage 4 liver cancer

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Liver Tumors at Seattle Children’s

At Seattle Children's, our doctors and other members of your child's health care team have worked with many children with liver tumors. It's important to work with doctors who have experience treating this less common type of cancer. We can offer the latest treatments for your child.

Treatment for liver cancer requires careful coordination of care by cancer doctors (oncologists), surgeons who are experts in liver surgery, pathologists and radiologists. At Children's, all of these doctors work as a team to care for your child.

Liver cancer survival rates

Doctors who treat people with cancer use five-year survival rates as one way to measure treatment success. The five-year survival rate means the percentage of patients with the disease who are alive five years after their disease was diagnosed.

The survival rate for children whose cancer is only in their liver is about 65%. If their liver cancer has spread to a lung, the survival rate is about 20%.

Read more about cancer programs and services at Seattle Children's Hospital.