Hepatoblastoma is a rare and aggressive form of childhood cancer originating in the liver. Although it is not clearly known exactly how, when, or why hepatoblastoma happens, it is generally understood that some of the rapidly dividing embryonic cells that form the liver (and other organs) in utero fail to stop developing at an accelerated rate once fetal formation of the liver is complete. Some factors may increase the likelihood of this happening such as genetic disorders, exposure to toxins in utero, and/or low birth weight.
A hepatoblastoma can simply be a collection of benign cells that are similar to fetal tissue OR cells can continue to divide and multiply aggressively no longer creating normal liver tissue. This rapid growth results in the formation of a cancerous liver tumor. From the tumor, cells can spread (metastasize) through the bloodstream to other parts of the liver, abdomen, or, most commonly, the lungs.
This is a very serious disease.
Hepatoblastoma is the most common liver cancer in children, although it is relatively uncommon compared with other solid tumors in the pediatric age group.
Approximately 100 cases of hepatoblastoma are reported per year. The annual incidence of hepatoblastoma in infants younger than 1 year is 11.2 cases per million.
Overall survival rates for all stages 5 years after treatment were 57-69%. The 5-year event-free survival (EFS) rates were 91% for patients with stage I with UH, 100% for stage II, 64% for stage III, and 25% for stage IV.
Charlotte’s condition was considered Stage 1. This is also more rare in full term babies, as Charlotte was, and is more commonly seen in children that are born pre-mature.