What is Wilms’ tumor?

Wilms’ tumor, also called nephroblastoma, is the most common type of kidney cancer found in children. About 500 children in the United States are diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor each year. Wilms’ tumor usually involves only one kidney, but in a small number of cases it may affect both kidneys.

Typically, the tumor is first detected as a painless lump in the abdomen, found by a parent or by a pediatrician during a routine check-up, although it may be accompanied by symptoms such as blood in the urine, anemia (which may be accompanied by unusual bleeding or fatigue), weight loss, and fever.

Most children who develop Wilms’ tumor have it due to a random change or mutation in their genes. However, about 1 to 2% of children with Wilms’ tumor have a family member or relative with the disease.

Approximately 15% of children diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor have been born with other conditions, as well, including: reproductive or urinary problems, hemihypertrophy, in which one side or part of the body is larger than the other, microcephaly, in which a child’s head is abnormally small and other rare disorders.

 

Our approach to Wilms’ tumor

When Wilms’ tumor is suspected, we begin the diagnostic examination with an ultrasound and CT or MRI of the abdomen. A biopsy, which involves surgically removing a small amount of the tumor tissue for examination under a microscope is requred to confirm the diagnosis as Wilms’ tumor.

Tumors are grouped into 2 major types based on how they look under a microscope; favorable and unfavorable, which helps determine which course of therapy to take. Treatment consists of surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy using strong medication to attack the tumor and if necessary radiation therapy to shrink the tumor. Greater than 90% of Wilms’ tumors may be cured.


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