Wilms’ tumor is a type of kidney tumor named after Dr. Max Wilms, the man who first discovered and described this type of tumor. They are also known as nephroblastoma. Wilms’ tumors mostly occur in children ages three to three and a half years old.
There is a higher rate of occurrence among African Americans. Wilms’ tumors are malignant tumors whose cause is not known.
In advanced stages they can metastasize to the lungs and the tumors can also rupture. If they do rupture immediate surgical removal of the tumor is necessary.
Signs & Symptoms
Wilms’ tumors share many symptoms with other ailments so it is important to receive a proper diagnosis. Symptoms can include swelling in the abdomen, fever, blood in the urine, high blood pressure, and constipation. The tumor may have grown large enough that it can be felt in the child’s abdomen. If a parent sees any of these symptoms, particularly a mass in the abdomen or blood in the urine, it is important that they talk to their doctor.
Wilms’ tumors are diagnosed first by physical exam and review of the family history. Blood tests and urinalysis are then often ordered. Imaging tools such as ultrasound, x-ray and CT scan are used to locate the tumor. A biopsy of the cells is the only way to definitively diagnose a Wilms’ tumor. In the United States there are approximately 500 cases diagnosed each year. 75% of these cases occur in children who are otherwise completely healthy.
Proper treatment of Wilms’ tumors depends on the size and stage of the tumor. If it is only located in the kidney then just the tumor can be removed, or the entire kidney might be removed. Adjuvant chemotherapy is sometimes used in conjunction with surgery to increase the patient’s chances of a full recovery.
Thankfully, the overall prognosis for Wilms’ tumors is good. Early detection and surgical removal of the tumor greatly increase a patient’s odds. The tumors have proven very responsive to treatment, with a 90% survival rate after five years. Children age 16 and older have a higher mortality rate often due to the tumor being more advanced prior to detection and treatment.