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Wilms Tumor

May 6, 2015 -

Wilms tumor (also called Wilms’ tumor or nephroblastoma) is a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. It is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. It is named after Max Wilms, a German doctor who wrote one of the first medical articles about the disease in 1899.

Wilms tumors are the most common cancers in children that start in the kidneys. About 9 of 10 kidney cancers in children are Wilms tumors.

Most Wilms tumors are unilateral, which means they affect only one kidney. Most often there is only one tumor, but 5% to 10% of children with Wilms tumors have more than one tumor in the same kidney. About 5% of children with Wilms tumors have bilateral disease (tumors in both kidneys).

Wilms tumors often become quite large before they are noticed. The average newly found Wilms tumor is many times larger than the kidney in which it started. Most Wilms tumors are found before they have spread (metastasized) to other organs.

Even if a doctor thinks a child might have a cancer such as Wilms tumor based on a physical exam or imaging tests, they can’t be certain until a sample of the tumor is looked at under a microscope.

Wilms tumors are grouped into 2 major types based on how they look under a microscope (their histology):

Favorable histology: Although the cancer cells in these tumors don’t look quite normal, there is no anaplasia (see next paragraph). More than 9 of 10 Wilms tumors have a favorable histology. The chance of curing children with these tumors is very good.

Unfavorable histology (anaplastic Wilms tumor): In these tumors, the look of the cancer cells varies widely, and the cells’ nuclei (the central parts that contain the DNA) tend to be very large and distorted. This is called anaplasia. The more anaplasia a tumor has, the harder it is to cure.

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