Hepatocellular carcinoma in children
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) occurs more frequently in subsaharan Africa and the Orient than in other geographical regions, but remains an uncommon tumour of childhood. We review six children with HCC (mean age 13 years) treated by the paediatric oncology unit at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town over an 8-year period (1983-1990). Patients presented with epigastric and right upper quadrant discomfort and hepatomegaly. The hepatitis B serum antigen (HbsAg) was positive in three patients; serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels were markedly elevated in three (range 100-453,000 μg/l). Age and sex did not differ significantly and all patients initially had irresectable advanced-stage tumours. Morphologically, three were highly malignant adult-type pleomorphic HCCs, two were differentiated tumours, and one a fibrolamellar subtype. The mean 2-year survival was 33% and the 5-year survival 16.6%. The biological behaviour and response to treatment of the tumours varied. Whereas three patients had a poor response to therapy, two with poorly-differentiated tumours, negative HbsAg, and normal serum AFP levels responded to doxorubicin/cisplatinum chemotherapy. This facilitated radical surgical excision. One patient of this group has survived for more than 75 months following surgical resection and remains well. HCC remains an uncommon tumour of childhood with a high mortality. Aggressive chemotherapeutic regimes in combination with surgical resection may lead to improved survival in some cases. Prevention of hepatitis B remains a priority.