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According to the American Cancer Society, about 500 children, most between ages 2 and 5, are diagnosed with Wilms' tumor each year in this country. While it is rare, it is the most common type of kidney cancer in children.
Problems that cause Wilms' tumor may begin before birth. As kidney cells mature in the fetus, they become specialized and form different parts of the kidney. Some of the cells continue developing after birth and mature over the next three or four years.
However, in children with Wilms' tumor, the cells remain immature. They begin to grow and reproduce too quickly, forming a tumor.
Wilms' tumor generally forms one tumor in one kidney. In rare cases, there may be more than one tumor in one kidney or tumors in both kidneys.
Because they grow rapidly and often don't have early symptoms, Wilms' tumors may be large when they are found. Sometimes they spread to other parts of the body, particularly the lungs.
Types of Wilms' tumors
Wilms' tumors can be classified into two categories depending on how they appear when they are examined with a microscope.
Favorable histology: Almost all Wilms' tumors are this type. The cells are slightly abnormal. Chances for successful treatment are good.
Unfavorable histology (anaplastic Wilms' tumor): The cell area that holds the DNA is large and distorted, or anaplastic. Anaplastic tumors are more difficult to treat successfully.
Wilms' Tumor risk factors
Anything that increases your child's chance of getting Wilms' tumor is a risk factor. Although we don't know exactly what causes Wilms' tumors, some things may make your child more likely to develop the disease.
Risk factors include:
- Age: Most children who develop Wilms' tumors are between 3 and 5 years old
- Race: Wilms' tumor is more common in African American children. It is least prevalent in Asian American children
- Gender: It is more common in females
- Birth defect syndromes, including:
- Other birth defects, including:
- Aniridia (complete or partial lack of the iris [colored area] of the eyes)
- Hemihypertrophy (an oversized arm and/or leg on one side of the body)
- Cryptorchidism (failure of the testicles to descend into the scrotum) in boys
- Hypospadias (defect in boys where the urinary opening is on the underside of the penis)
- Other genetic conditions, including:
- Perlman syndrome
- Sotos syndrome
- Simpson-Golabi-Behmel syndrome
- Bloom syndrome
- Li-Fraumeni syndrome
- Frasier syndrome
- Trisomy 18
Not everyone with risk factors gets Wilms' tumor. However, if your child has risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor.
Learn more about Wilms' tumor:
Why choose MD Anderson for Wilms' tumor treatment?
MD Anderson's Children's Cancer Hospital is one of the nation's foremost treatment and research facilities for Wilms' tumors. When your child is a patient here, we customize a plan of action that includes the most advanced therapies with the least impact on the body.
Our renowned experts, including medical, surgical and radiation oncologists and pathologists, work as a highly specialized team to ensure your child receives the best opportunity for successful treatment. They are supported by a focused staff that includes nurses, physician assistants, therapists, social workers and others.
Personalized, expert treatments
This group of professionals follows your child from day one through survivorship. This continuity of care and close communication means comprehensive treatment and follow-up for your child.
Surgical expertise is important to Wilms' tumor treatment. The surgeons at Children's Cancer Hospital are among the best in the nation. They see a higher number of Wilms' tumor patients than most surgeons, giving them an incredible level of skill and expertise. This can make a big difference in the outcome of your child's treatment.
In addition, we offer a number of clinical trials of innovative agents. Some of them are available only at Children's Cancer Hospital. Our active research program is results oriented, evidenced by the fact that we discovered the first successful chemotherapy (vincristine) for children with inoperable Wilms' tumor.
Treating the whole child
Children's Cancer Hospital is designed just for children, with a full range of services and amenities that help make the child and family's experience as comfortable as possible. We go beyond medical care to deliver a comprehensive experience that treats the whole child.
And at Children's Cancer Hospital, your child benefits from the resources and expertise of one of the nation's top cancer centers.
Take it one day at a time and never give up.