Wilms Tumor | Miami Cancer Institute | Baptist Health South Florida
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Wilms Tumor

Wilms tumor, named after Max Wilms, the German doctor who wrote one of the first studies about the disease in 1899, is the most common type of kidney cancer in children.

It is also known as nephroblastoma. Approximately 500 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with Wilms tumor each year. The disease can occur at any age between infancy and 15, but in most cases the tumor is found by the age of 3 or 4. It is slightly more common among girls and African-Americans. It can metastasize or spread to other body tissues, most often the lungs, liver, the other kidney, the brain and the bones. Most Wilms tumors are unilateral, meaning they occur in one kidney only.

What causes Wilms tumor?

It is uncommon for Wilms tumor to run in families. Most cases occur by chance and with no clear cause. They seem to be genetic defects in the cell growth of the kidney. A small percentage of patients with Wilms tumor have genetic syndromes, including WAGR syndrome, Denys-Drash syndrome and Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome.

What are the symptoms of Wilms tumor?

The following are the most common symptoms of Wilms tumor. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

  • A nontender mass, or lump, felt or seen in the belly
  • Swelling of the belly
  • Pain in the abdomen from pressure on other organs near the tumor
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
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There are a wide range of treatment options for children with Wilms tumor, and the tests involved in diagnosing the disease help doctors better analyze your child’s condition ― and help determine the best treatment. Your child’s doctor generally will complete a thorough medical history and may order a number of tests. Because there is no single way to treat cancer, your child’s testing and care plan may be very different from another child’s, even if they have the same type of cancer.

The most common tests for Wilms tumor are:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT
  • MRI
  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Biopsy
  • Surgical removal of the tumor and kidney – at times necessary for a definitive diagnosis and to determine the extent of the disease

At Miami Cancer Institute, the comprehensive treatment of your child involves numerous specialists. You may see several pediatric physicians, oncologists, surgeons and radiation experts, as well as nurses, dietitians, therapists and social workers. We understand that this can be a confusing and stressful time for every family member, and we are here to help.

One of the most exciting advances in the fight against Wilms tumor is proton therapy. When the Proton Therapy Center opens at Miami Cancer Institute soon, it will be the only center of its kind in the region and one of only 14 in the United States. An advanced form of radiation treatment, proton therapy spares healthy tissue and eliminates many of the side effects of conventional radiation treatment (also known as photon or external beam radiation). While traditional X-rays pass through healthy tissue and organs on their way in and out of the body, protons travel through the body and release most of their energy inside a tumor. Using proton therapy reduces the risk of damage to bones and soft tissues, reduces side effects and decreases the odds of other tumors later in life, which makes it particularly good for treating childhood cancers.

Other treatments may include (alone or in combination):

  • Surgery to remove all or part of the affected kidney and involved structures
  • Biopsy of the tumor
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy​
  • Medications to control side effects like pain, hypertension, nausea and infections

As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from individual to individual. Close follow-up care is essential. The healthcare team at Miami Cancer Institute will work closely with you and your family to develop the best treatment plan for your child.