Wilms Tumor

What is Wilms Tumor

Wilms tumor is a type of kidney cancer that affects children. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in the back of the abdomen. Kidneys filter blood and make urine. They also make important chemical messengers (hormones) that help control blood pressure and the production of red blood cells.

In most cases of Wilms tumor, the child will have only one tumor in one kidney. Less commonly, there may be more than one tumor in one kidney, or there may be tumors in both kidneys. A Wilms tumor is considered either favorable or unfavorable. Wilms tumors are classified into these groups depending on how the tumor cells look under a microscope. Unfavorable tumors are harder to cure.

What are the causes?

The cause of Wilms tumor is not known.

What increases the risk?

Certain things can increase a child’s risk of Wilms tumor, including:

  • Having a family history of Wilms tumor or other kidney cancers.
  • Being born with other genetic defects.
  • Being younger than 6 years old.
  • Being female.
  • Having African ancestry.

What are the signs or symptoms?

The most common first sign of Wilms tumor is a hard, painless swelling in your child’s abdomen. The tumor may grow to be quite large before it causes any symptoms. Other symptoms of Wilms tumor may include:

  • Nausea and loss of appetite.
  • Fever.
  • Blood in your child’s urine.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Feeling weak and tired.
  • Headache from increased blood pressure.

How is this diagnosed?

A health care provider may suspect Wilms tumor from your child’s signs and symptoms, especially if your child has a family history of birth defects. A physical exam will be done. Various tests may be done, such as:

  • Urine test to check for blood in the urine and to check kidney function.
  • Blood tests to check kidney function, blood chemistries, and your child’s red and white blood cells and platelets.
  • Imaging studies to get a picture of the tumor. These may include a CT scan, ultrasound, and MRI.
  • Chest X-ray and bone scan to see if the tumor has spread outside the kidney.

Removing a tissue sample to examine under a microscope (biopsy) is the only way to confirm the diagnosis of Wilms tumor. This is often done at the time the tumor is removed.

How is this treated?

Surgery to remove the tumor and any affected tissue is the main treatment for almost all children with Wilms tumor. Your child’s specific treatment will depend on:

  • The type and size of tumor.
  • Whether the tumor has spread.
  • If the tumor affects one or both kidneys.

A team of health care providers will help you make the best decision about your child’s treatment. Treatment may also include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.


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