Liver cancers factsheet


The liver is the body's largest organ. It has many jobs, including: 

  • filtering harmful substances out of the blood
  • creating bile, which helps break down fat from food
  • making extra energy sources in the form of a sugar called glucose. 

Liver cancer is rare in children, but there are two common types.

  1. hepatoblastoma - more common in boys and usually found in children under three.
  2. hepatocellular carcinoma– more common in adults but can be found in children between 10 and 16.

 Signs and symptoms

Liver cancer may not show any signs of symptoms until it has become more advanced. Symptoms can include:

  • a lump or mass found in the upper right side or middle of the belly
  • belly pain
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abnormal or sudden weight loss
  • diarrhoea – loose poos that are hard to control
  • jaundice – a yellow colour in the skin and whites of the eyes
  • general itchiness
  • fever
  • Irritability and restlessness.


Liver cancer is diagnosed by:

  • checking your child’s symptoms
  • x-rays
  • blood tests to check for a protein made by liver tumours
  • CT or MRI scans
  • a biopsy - taking a tumour sample and testing it in a lab.

After diagnosis, your child will need some other tests to check:

  • whether the cancer has spread to other body parts.
  • whether their organs are healthy enough for treatment.


Children with liver cancer will see an oncologist for treatment. An oncologist is a specialist doctor who works with tumours and cancer.

Treatment options generally include

  • surgery to remove the cancer
  • chemotherapy to shrink the tumour and destroy any cancer cells.

Children with hepatoblastoma may need chemotherapy to:

  • shrink the tumour before surgery
  • kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery
  • treat cancer when surgery cannot be done safely or effectively.

Hepatocellular Carcinoma does not respond well to chemotherapy and is usually treated with surgery alone.

Liver transplant

In some cases, children with liver cancers that are growing and spreading may need a liver transplant. 

A liver transplant is a surgery that removes a sick or damaged liver and replaces it with a whole or part of a healthy, donated liver.

The liver is the only organ in the body that can re-grow itself. When a child has part of a healthy liver transplanted, it will eventually grow into a normal-sized liver.


Risk factors

Some risk factors can increase the chance of a child developing liver cancer. These include:

  • being born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, with a very low birth weight  
  • having Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, where organs grow too much 
  • having called Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a genetic condition which causes growths in the lining of the large intestine 
  • having chronic liver disease.

Support for families

A cancer diagnosis can leave families and children feeling overwhelmed, scared, anxious, and upset. Practical and emotional support during and after treatment is essential and can come from: 

  • family
  • friends
  • healthcare professionals
  • specialised support services.

Speak to your child’s treatment team for information about support services.

Last updated Monday 25th March 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024