Treatment Advances for Wilms Tumor

Wilms tumor, also known as nephroblastoma, is a rare form of kidney cancer that mostly affects children. Wilms tumor is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. Though the cancer can affect both kidneys, it typically only grows in one. Advancements in diagnosis and treatment have significantly improved the outlook for children with Wilms tumor. The prognosis for most children with the disease is good.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Wilms tumor may vary, and some children may not show any symptoms of the disease. Most children with the disease will have one or more of the following symptoms: abdominal pain, an abdominal mass you can feel, and abdominal swelling. Some children with Wilms tumor may also have constipation, shortness of breath, fever, appetite loss, blood in the urine, high blood pressure, and nausea, vomiting, or both, according to Mayo Clinic.

Risk Factors

According to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, certain factors put children at higher risk of developing Wilms tumor. African-American children are more likely to develop the disease than are Caucasian children. Asian children have a lower risk of developing Wilms tumor than Caucasian children. If a child has WAGR syndrome (Williams tumor-aniridia-genitourinary malformation-retardation), Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, or Denys-Drash syndrome, he is more likely to develop this type of cancer. Approximately 1.5% of children who develop the disease have a family member who also had Wilms tumor.

Cause

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer occurs when cells in the body start growing out of control. Wilms tumor is cancer that begins in the kidneys. In most cases, the cause of Wilms tumor is unknown. In rare cases, there may be a genetic component to the disease.

Diagnosis

Doctors may use a variety of tests to make a diagnosis of Wilms tumor. After a physical exam has been performed on a child, her doctor may order blood and urine tests to determine how well the kidneys are functioning. The doctor may also order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to determine whether a kidney tumor is present. Oftentimes, a diagnosis of Wilms tumor is confirmed when the tumor is surgically removed.

Treatment

Treatment for Wilms tumor typically includes both surgery and chemotherapy. It can also include radiation therapy, depending on how advanced the disease is.

Surgery: Wilms tumors are almost always removed surgically as soon as they are discovered. Oftentimes, if one kidney is affected, the entire kidney is removed along with the tumor. The tumor is sent to the lab for testing to confirm a diagnosis of cancer.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy utilizes a combination of drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. Chemotherapy is given before surgery to try to shrink Wilms tumor if the tumor is difficult to remove. It's also given before surgery if there are tumors present in both kidneys. The hope is that the chemotherapy can shrink the tumors enough that the surgeon will be able to save one kidney and preserve a child's kidney function.

Chemotherapy can be given following surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain in the body. Chemotherapy can also be used when cancer cells have spread to other parts of the child's body.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy utilizes high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used when cancer has spread from the kidneys to other parts of the body.

Wilms tumor is a rare form of kidney cancer that mainly occurs in young children. With advancements in treatment, survival rates for children who develop Wilms tumor with a favorable histology have a high survival rate.

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