What is Wilms tumor?
Wilms tumor is a cancerous tumor that starts in the cells of the kidney. It’s the
most common type of kidney cancer in children. It’s usually found by the time a child
is age 3 or 4. The tumor can be very large before it’s found. And it may spread (metastasize) to
other body tissues. The most common site for Wilms tumor to spread to is the lungs. But
it may also spread to the liver, lymph nodes, other kidney, brain, and bones.
What causes Wilms tumor?
Most cases of Wilms tumor occur by chance with no clear cause. Defects in genes affect
the growth of kidney cells. But it’s not common for Wilms tumor to run in families.
Who is at risk for Wilms tumor?
A small number of children with Wilms tumor also have a syndrome caused by abnormal
genes, such as:
Some birth defects may increase the chance of Wilms tumor. For example, a boy with
defects of the penis or testicle may be more at risk. Talk with your child's healthcare
provider if you want more information about these conditions.
What are the symptoms of Wilms tumor?
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:
- A lump in the belly (abdomen)
- Swelling of the belly
- Pain in the belly, but some children have no pain
- Blood in the urine
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
Many of these symptoms may be caused by other health problems. But it is important
to see your child's healthcare provider if you notice these symptoms. Only a healthcare
provider can tell if your child has cancer.
How is Wilms tumor diagnosed?
If your child's healthcare provider thinks your child might have Wilms tumor, certain
exams and tests will be needed to be sure. Your child's healthcare provider will ask
about your child's health history and symptoms. He or she will examine your child.
Your child may have tests such as:
- Abdominal ultrasound. This test uses sound waves and a computer to create pictures of blood vessels, tissues
and organs. It can show the kidney, the tumor, and blood vessels of the kidney. It
can also help show if there are any tumors in the other kidney or other parts of the
- Abdominal CT scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the belly
(abdomen). CT scans are much more detailed than standard X-rays.
- MRI. This test uses magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images of the
body. MRI can show if cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasized).
It can also show if there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes or other nearby organs.
- Chest X-ray. An X-ray is done with a small amount of radiation. It can show if there the cancer
has spread to the lungs.
- Blood and urine tests. These can check how well the kidneys and liver are working and check overall health.
- Biopsy. A small piece of tissue is removed and checked with a microscope for cancer cells. Samples
of the tumor, nearby lymph nodes, and other tissue may be taken. A biopsy can also
show the type of tumor. A biopsy of kidney tissue may not be done with some tumors.
How is Wilms tumor treated?
Most children with Wilms tumor can be cured. Treatment will depend on the size and
location of the tumor and other factors. Your child will be treated by specialists
with experience in treating Wilms tumor. They may include a pediatric surgeon and
a pediatric cancer specialist (oncologist). The cancer can be treated with any of
- Surgery. This is done to take out the affected kidney (nephrectomy). Removing only part of
the kidney is not advised for most children. Samples of the kidney that is removed
are studied. Samples of nearby lymph nodes may also be taken and checked for signs
- Chemotherapy. These are medicines that kill cancer cells. They are used to destroy cancer cells
before or after surgery. They are also used to treat cancer that has spread or grows
- Radiation therapy. These are high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation. Radiation is used to kill
cancer cells or stop them from growing. It may be used to treat cancer that has spread
or grows back.
- Supportive care. Cancer treatment can cause side effects. Medicines and other treatments can be used
to help ease side effects such as pain, fever, infection, and nausea and vomiting.
- Clinical trials. Ask your child's healthcare provider if there are any new treatments being tested
that may work well for your child.
Your child will need follow-up care during and after treatment to:
- Check on your child's response to the treatment
- Manage the side effects of treatment
- Look for returning or spreading cancer
Some treatments may be hard on your child, but they increase the chance of your child
living a long time. Discuss the side effects of treatment with your child's healthcare
With any cancer, how well a child is expected to recover (prognosis) varies. Keep
- Getting medical treatment right away is important for the best outcomes.
- Ongoing follow-up care during and after treatment is needed.
- New treatments are being tested to improve outcomes and to lessen side effects.
You can ask your child's healthcare provider about survival rates and what you might
expect. But remember that statistics are based on large groups of people. They can't
be used to say what will happen to your child.
What are possible complications of Wilms tumor?
Possible complications can include:
- Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, such as heart failure or growth
of a new type of cancer
- Problems from surgery, such as bleeding or infection
- Pregnancy problems in the future
- Cancer that grows back or spreads
Your child's care team will review what complications you need to consider based on
your child's specific treatment plan.
How is Wilms tumor managed?
You can help your child manage his or her treatment in many ways. For example:
- Learn as much as you can about Wilms tumor. This can help you make the best decisions
for your child.
- Get emotional support for your child. Finding a counselor or child support group can
- Make sure your child gets to all appointments and treatment visits.
- Your child may have trouble eating. A dietitian may be able to help.
- Your child may be very tired. He or she will need to balance rest and activity. Encourage
your child to get some exercise. This is good for overall health. And it may help
to lessen tiredness.
Your child may need to:
- Be checked for Wilms tumor if he or she has a condition that increases the chance
of developing Wilms tumor
- Have genetic testing and counseling
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
- Symptoms that get worse
- New symptoms
- Side effects from treatment
Be sure to ask the healthcare provider about any problems or changes you should watch
for and what you should do if you notice them.
Key points about Wilms tumor
- Wilms tumor is cancer that starts in the cells of the kidney.
- It’s most often found in children between ages of 3 and 4.
- It may not cause any symptoms and may not be diagnosed until it’s large.
- Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy may be used to treat Wilms tumor.
- Most children with Wilms tumor can be cured with treatment.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.