Recently a family received the heartbreaking news that their nine-year-old son had Wilms’ tumor, a type of kidney cancer.
The young boy, named Freddie Woollard, and his family initially thought that he was suffering from long Covid, with the diagnosis coming as “bombshell” shock.
After a surgery as well as radiotherapy the boy’s prognosis is good, although he will need chemotherapy for several months.
While the condition is rare – affecting roughly 85 children in the UK each year – it is important to identify as swift treatment is vital.
Here are key facts surrounding the condition including symptoms, causes, and treatments.
What is Wilms’ tumour?
According to NHS Scotland, Wilms’ tumor is a type of kidney cancer in children, named after Dr Max Wilms who first described it.
It is thought to come from very specialized cells in the embryo known as metanephric blastema that develop while a child is still in the womb.
It can affect both one kidney or both, which is called bilateral Wilms’ tumor.
The tumor can spread to other vital organs such as the lungs or liver.
The condition can be horrible for young children and their families, although it is curable in more than 90 per cent of cases.
Who does Wilms’ tumor effect?
Most commonly the condition will affect children under the age of five, although it can affect older children as well.
In some very rare cases Wilms’ tumor can develop in adults, according to Cancer Research UK.
As well as disproportionally developing in children, the condition also may be more likely to impact children with a birth defect.
Five percent of children who develop the condition have some sort of birth defect.
What are the causes of the condition?
There is no known cause of the condition although it may be more likely to develop in children with certain pre-existing conditions.
NHS Scotland guidance says: “Very rarely, people who develop Wilms’ tumor have other specific conditions which are present at birth (congenital malformations).
“These include the lack of an iris in the eye (aniridia), abnormalities of the genitals, and a condition where one side of the body is slightly larger than the other (hemihypertrophy).”
What are the symptoms of Wilms’ tumour?
According to the NHS the key symptoms to look out for include a swollen abdomen or a lump in the abdomen, which can be painless.
As well as this those with the condition may experience blood when they pee, raised blood pressure, a high temperature, upset stomach, weight loss or a lack of appetite.
Additionally Cancer Research have outlined the following less common symptoms:
- feeling or being sick
- shortness of breath and cough (only if the cancer has spread to the lungs)
- generally feeling unwell
- looking pale due to a low number of red blood cells (anaemia)
- being irritable due to their tummy feeling uncomfortable
If your child is showing these symptoms and you are concerned, get in touch with your doctor.
The condition could be diagnosed through a number of means including an ultrasound, MRI and/or CT scan, blood and urine tests, and a biopsy.
How is Wilms’ tumor treated?
The treatment for this condition can depend on the stage of the cancer.
Wilms’ tumor has five stages with the first two being curable by surgery, although most children will receive chemotherapy unless they are under six months.
The operation will typically involve removing the whole of the affected kidney, which is called a nephrectomy.
For those with bilateral Wilms’ tumor, the NHS says treatment can involve removing as much of the cancer as possible, while leaving as much healthy kidney as possible.
Radiotherapy may also be used in cases where the tumor has spread to the lung, although this is typically done depending on how well the cancer responds to initial chemotherapy as it isn’t always required.
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