Wilms’ tumour

Wilms’ tumour is a type of children’s cancer that happens in the kidney. It starts in cells called nephroblasts, so is sometimes called nephroblastoma. The kidneys are part of the urinary system – the part of the body that filters water and waste products out of the blood and makes urine.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of Wilms’ tumour is a swollen tummy (abdomen) which is usually painless. You may also notice blood in your child’s urine, that they have a high temperature (fever) or an upset stomach.

How is it diagnosed?

Wilms’ tumour is normally diagnosed after a number of tests in a hospital. They can include blood and urine tests, scans of the abdomen and chest and a biopsy, where a sample of cells from the affected area is removed so it can be examined more closely. A biopsy is normally done under general anaesthetic, where your child will be put to sleep for the procedure.

These tests aren’t normally painful, but your child will have to keep still for some of them. They may have more than one test on the same day.

Your child’s specialists will be able to work out the stage of cancer – in the form of a tumour, or lump – from these tests. The stage is the size of the tumour and whether it has spread to other parts of your child’s body.

How is it treated?

The main treatments for Wilms’ tumour are normally chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Your child’s exact treatment will depend on the type of Wilms’ tumour they have and how far their tumour has spread, so it’s best to talk to their specialist for further information.

Most children will have chemotherapy before surgery. Chemotherapy, which uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, is usually given as an injection or through a drip. After chemotherapy, your child will usually have surgery to remove the affected kidney as well as some tissues around it. They may have more chemotherapy following this, which may continue for a few weeks or months depending on the stage of the cancer.

Your child may also have a course of radiotherapy, where radiation is used to kill cancer cells. This usually lasts about 3 weeks.

What happens after treatment?

Your child will normally have regular follow up appointments at the outpatient clinic, where their specialist will check their progress and make sure their cancer hasn’t come back.

Many children don’t have long-term health problems following treatment, but some do. Talk to your child’s specialist about the potential long-term side effects of your child’s treatment.

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