Researchers Find a New Hazardous Cancer Subtype

Pediatric cancers are heartbreaking, but they do occur, which means that doctors must search for better ways to treat them and save kids’ lives. In a recently published research article, scientists from Texas found a new type of liver cancer that affects children and may require a change in diagnosing and treating childhood liver cancer. The research appears in the May 2022 issue of the Journal of Hepatology.
Pediatric Liver Cancer cancer cells

What many people don’t realize is that the kinds of cancers that develop in kids and adults are often not the same. According to Cancer.org, pediatric cancers are rarely caused by lifestyle, inherited genetic mutations, and environmental risk factors compared to adult cancers. Childhood cancers also respond better to treatments - generally speaking.

Liver cancer is rather rare in children and teens, and when it does occur, the two main forms are:

  • Hepatoblastoma (HB) - is more common in kids 3-years-old or younger and rarely spreads outside the liver.
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) - affects teens aged 14 and older and can spread to other parts of the body.

The symptoms of liver cancer can be easily confused with other conditions, so see medical diagnosis if a child experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • A painless lump in the belly
  • Pain or swelling in the abdomen
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Early puberty (in boys).

​Both hepatoblastoma and hepatocellular carcinoma typically require surgery. And in many cases, surgery is combined with chemotherapy before the surgery to shrink the tumor prior to removal. However, doctors have noticed that some liver tumors respond much less to chemotherapy and come with worse outcomes in general.

Pediatric Liver Cancer liver

This spurred researchers from the Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center and Baylor College of Medicine to suggest that there might be a third common type of childhood liver tumor. Indeed, they found that some of the liver tumors found in kids do not look like either hepatoblastoma or hepatocellular carcinoma. Closely examining the tissue structure and genetic makeup of this other type of liver tumor revealed that they were looking at a new hybrid type of pediatric liver cancer.

Having analyzed the genetic characteristics of this new type of tumor, the researchers found molecular components found in both HB and HCC. This made them classify this new type of tumor as a hepatoblastoma with hepatocellular carcinoma features (HBC).

Pediatric Liver Cancer teenage putting on headscarf

Telling apart HBC tumors from other pediatric liver tumors si crucial, as they tend to respond less to standard chemotherapy and require more aggressive surgery, including liver transplantation. As Prof. Dolores López-Terrada, one of the study's authors, suggested to Scitech Daily, “Our findings highlight the importance of molecular testing to accurately classify these tumors to optimize treatment recommendations at the time of initial diagnosis.” 

In the article, the researchers explain how to diagnose HBCs and adjust the cancer treatment. Without a doubt, this discovery will help save countless children’s lives. The discovery also opens the door for analyzing many other difficult-to-treat cancers on a molecular level.

H/T: Scitech Daily

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