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Childhood Cancers: Wilms' Tumour


Wilms' tumour or nephroblastoma is a cancer of the kidneys that can develop in a foetus but may not cause symptoms for years after birth. Wilms' tumour usually occurs in children under 5 years of age, although it appears occasionally in older children and rarely in adults. The cause of Wilms' tumour isn't known, although a genetic abnormality may be involved. Children with certain birth defects , such as absence of the irises (eye structure) or excessive growth of one side of the body, both of which may be caused by a genetic abnormality, have an increased risk of developing Wilms' tumour.

Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms include a large abdomen (for example, a rapid change to a larger diaper size), abdominal pain, fever, poor appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Blood appears in the urine in 15 to 20% of cases. Wilms' tumour may cause high blood pressure. This cancer can spread to other parts of the body, especially the lungs, producing a cough and shortness of breath.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If a child has symptoms, the doctor will usually feel the child's abdomen for lumps and run blood and urine tests. If Wilms' tumour is suspected, an ultrasound , a computed tomography (CT) scan, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be performed to determine the nature and size of the lump. A special x-ray called an intravenous pyelogram , which uses a dye containing iodine in order to see the kidney more clearly.
The prognosis depends on the microscopic appearance of the tumour, its spread at the time of diagnosis, and the age of the child. Younger children, children with smaller tumours, and children whose tumour has not spread tend to fare better. Wilms' tumour is curable in the majority of affected children. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the options available to treat this form of cancer.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. Pediatric Cancers, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center:

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Contact Last modified: Oct 20 2004