Nephroblastoma is a type of kidney cancer that most often occurs in children age three to three and a half years old. It rarely occurs in adults. It is also known as Wilms’ tumor and eponym. There are approximately 500 cases a year diagnosed in the United States. In approximately 75% of these cases the children are completely normal otherwise. In the other 25% they have additional complications. If the tumor is not detected early enough it can spread to the lungs, liver, bones, or brain. In a worst case scenario the tumor may also rupture. In these cases emergency surgery is needed preferably by a surgeon with skill and experience in this type of delicate operation. While the cause of nephroblastoma is unknown, it is more common in siblings and twins. This suggests there may be a genetic link.
Nephroblastoma Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of a nephroblastoma include an enlarged abdomen, abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and in approximately 20% of cases urine in the blood. Sometimes doctors see an increased growth in only one side of the body. Constipation and loss of appetite can also occur.
The nephroblastoma are usually first felt by a doctor during a physical exam. They will then order an ultrasound or an MRI. Once the presence of the tumor is confirmed they must biopsy the cells and look at them under a microscope to determine whether or not they are cancerous.
Nephroblastoma in general respond well to treatment. They are treated first by surgically removing the tumor and then followed up with chemotherapy drugs. Radiation is also used during many treatment regimens. During surgery doctors can check both kidneys to see if there are other nephroblastoma forming. In approximately 95% of the cases though the nephroblastoma is unilateral, meaning it only occurs in one kidney. Bilateral tumors occur in both kidneys and the plan of treatment is determined by the stage of the tumor. A specific list of findings based on test results help doctors determine which stage the tumor is in and how they can best treat it.
Prognosis is good for nephroblastoma that is detected early and surgically removed. Some types of nephroblastoma have higher risks of relapse and death, but in general the earlier the tumor is diagnosed and removed the more positive the prognosis will be.