Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
    Massachusetts General Hospital
Cancer Resource Room

Learn About Cancer

Find Your Cancer Type


Learn About Living
with Cancer

Cancer Topics


Contact Us

Locations & Hours



Learn About Wilms' Tumor
Written by NCI/PDQ®

Source: Cancer Resource Room

What is it? Common Questions
Symptoms What's New
How is it diagnosed? Pictures*Books*Links
Who Treats This? External Websites
Clinical Trials   Overviews on this cancer
Support & Education   Connect With Others

What is Wilms’ tumor?
Wilms’ tumor is a disease in which cancer (malignant) cells are found in certain parts of the kidney. The kidneys are a “matched” pair of organs found on either side of the backbone. The kidneys are shaped like a kidney bean. Inside each kidney are tiny tubes that filter and clean the blood, taking out unneeded products, and making urine. The urine made by the kidneys passes through a tube called a ureter into the bladder where it is held until it is passed from the body.

What are the symptoms and how is Wilms’ tumor diagnosed?
Wilms’ tumor is curable in the majority of affected children. If your child has symptoms, your child’s doctor will usually feel your childs abdomen for lumps and run blood and urine tests. The doctor may order a special x-ray called an intravenous pyelogram. During this test, a dye containing iodine is injected into your childs bloodstream. This allows your childs doctor to see the kidney more clearly on the x-ray. Your childs doctor may also do an ultrasound, which uses sound waves to make a picture, or a special x-ray called a computed tomographic scan to look for lumps in the kidney. A special scan called magnetic resonance imaging, which uses magnetic waves to make a picture, may also be done. Chest and bone x-rays may also be taken.

If abnormal tissue is found, your childs doctor will need to cut out a small piece and look at it under the microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. This is called a biopsy.

In Wilms’ tumor, how the cancer cells look under a microscope (histology) is also very important. The cancer cells can be of favorable histology or unfavorable histology (which includes focal and diffuse anaplasia)

Your childs chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment depend on the stage of your childs cancer (whether it is just in the kidney only or has spread to other places in the body), how the cancer cells look under a microscope (histology), tumor size, and your childs age and general health.

What Are Other Childhood Kidney Tumors?
Clear cell sarcoma of the kidney, rhabdoid tumor of the kidney, and neuroepithelial tumor of the kidney are childhood kidney tumors unrelated to Wilms tumor. The treatment of these tumors is different from that of Wilms tumor but because of their location near the kidneys, they have been treated on clinical trials developed by the National Wilms Tumor Study Group.

Stages of Wilms tumor
Once Wilms tumor has been found, more tests will be done to find out if cancer cells have spread from the kidney to other parts of the body. This is called staging. Your childs doctor needs to know the stage of the disease to plan treatment. The following stages are used for Wilms tumor:

Stage I
Cancer is found only in the kidney and can be completely removed by surgery.

Stage II
Cancer has spread beyond the kidney, to fat or soft tissue or blood vessels. The cancer can be completely removed by surgery.

Stage III
Cancer has spread within the abdomen and cannot be completely removed by surgery. The cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes (small bean-shaped structures found throughout the body that produce and store infection-fighting cells) near the kidney, blood vessels, or the peritoneum (tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most organs in the abdomen).

Stage IV
Cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, bone, and/or brain.

Stage V
Cancer cells are found in both kidneys when the disease is first diagnosed.

Recurrent disease means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after it has been treated. It may come back where it started or in another part of the body.

To read more about Wilms’ tumor >>>

Support & Education Programs

We know that being diagnosed with cancer can be stressful for you and your family. We offer a variety of cancer support services to help patients and families gain the support and information they will need to meet the challenges ahead.

To find information on the pediatric support programs, please go to Parents and Family Programs >>>

Read the most recent SUPPORT publication, a resource written by patients and families for patients and families >>>