Wilms' Tumor

Wilms' Tumor Symptoms And Treatment

Wilms' tumor is a form of kidney cancer. Wilms' tumor is different from the most common form of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma, in that it relatively rare and typically affects children but not adults. Another name for Wilms' tumor is nephroblastoma.

Generally, Wilms tumor occurs in children between ages 3 and 5. It is extremely rare after a child has reached age 6.

Although Wilms' tumor can occur in both kidneys, it tends to affect just one kidney. The precise cause of Wilms' tumor is currently unknown. Some evidence suggests this form of kidney cancer actually begins in the womb when cells that form the kidneys don't develop as they should. Instead, these cells develop abnormally and after several years they become a tumor.

Wilms' tumorGenerally speaking, there are no typical risk factors that make your child more likely to develop Wilms' tumor. Children from African-American families seem to have a higher risk, as do children who are born into a family with a history of having Wilms' tumor. However, Asian-American children seem to have a slightly lower risk.

In recent years, Wilms' tumor has become easier to diagnose as imaging techniques have improved. Doctors are now better able to determine the stage the cancer has reached and plan an appropriate course of Wilms' tumor treatment. The prognosis for children with Wilms' tumor is good in most cases.
Symptoms of Wilms' tumor often go undetected because the tumors can get relatively large without causing pain. Most are diagnosed before the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes symptoms of Wilms' tumor may appear, including:

  • evidence of blood in the urine
  • swelling in the abdominal area, or even an abdominal mass that can be felt
  • stomach and/or abdominal discomfort
  • fever and nausea
  • lowered appetite for no apparent reason
  • an increase in blood pressure
  • constipation

There are several possibilities for Wilms' tumor treatment, and your child's doctor will choose from these based on the stage of the kidney cancer and the appearance of the cancer cells. Cancer cells may look slightly abnormal or extremely abnormal. Slightly abnormal cells may call for a different type of treatment from cells that look extremely abnormal.

Because Wilms' tumor is relatively rare, and occurs almost exclusively in children, the doctor may suggest treatment for Wilms' tumor in a hospital or center that specializes in children's care.

Surgery and chemotherapy are the most common types of Wilms' tumor treatment.

Surgery involves a procedure known as a nephrectomy, in which all or part of the kidney is removed. If some of the tissue around the kidney is also removed, the procedure is called a radical nephrectomy. If only one kidney is removed, your child will be able to function almost normally. Many people alive today have only one kidney. However, if both kidneys need to be removed, your child will need kidney dialysis and will eventually be put on a list for a kidney transplant. See our related article on kidney removal surgery.

Chemotherapy is the other most common treatment for Wilms' tumor. Chemotherapy employs cancer fighting drugs that are introduced into the system to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy has side effects that can be especially distressing for a child who doesn't understand what's happening.

Radiation therapy is the third possibility. This treatment uses X-rays or other sources of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It's usually used in conjunction with surgery, and begins a few days after the operation. There may also be side effects with radiation therapy, including nausea, fatigue and skin irritation, and diarrhea.