By Dr. Elizabeth Perlman, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Ill.
What is Wilms tumor?
Wilms tumor is a cancer of the developing kidney. It is one of the most common types of childhood cancer, with approximately 500 new patients a year in the United States alone.
What are the signs and symptoms of Wilms tumor?
There are few signs of Wilms tumor, the most typical being a firm mass in the belly. The tumor expands slowly and is usually quite large when detected.
What treatment options are available for Wilms tumor?
The treatment program for a child is typically designed based on the child’s age, the size and stage of the tumor, whether or not the tumor has spread beyond the kidney, and on particular histologic and genetic features of the tumor.
- Surgery: Wilms tumors usually need to be removed by a surgeon, either before or after additional therapy. In very young patients, small tumors that don’t extend beyond the kidney may not require additional therapy.
- Chemotherapy: Most children with Wilms tumors will benefit from two drugs that kill tumor cells, vincristine and actinomycin-D. A minority of children will also benefit from doxorubicin.
- Radiation therapy: In addition to chemotherapy, a small number of children will benefit from further treatment using radiotherapy.
What is the current state of Wilms tumor research?
Research that involves the causes and treatment of Wilms tumor has been remarkably successful in the last few decades. As a result, over 90% of patients with Wilms tumor now survive their disease. However, Wilms tumor researchers are still faced with these challenges:
- Reduce the side effects of therapy
- Identify tumor features that will predict which patients will relapse
- Identify new therapies that will successfully treat tumors that will relapse