Kidney Cancer in Childhood: Symptoms and Causes

Kidney cancer in childhood is very rare. Although adolescents and adults can suffer from it, almost 90% of cases occur in children under 5 years old. Therefore, specialists think it develops in the womb.
Kidney Cancer in Childhood: Symptoms and Causes

Last update: 19 February, 2019

Talking about kidney cancer in childhood can be very disheartening. However, it’s a treatable disease. Most children who suffer from it survive and live a normal life.

Kidney cancer in childhood

Cancer occurs when malignant cells multiply out of control in the body. The most common type of kidney cancer in childhood is called Wilms tumor or nephrolastomaIt’s solid and forms in the immature kidney tissue.

Despite being a single lesion, it can affect both kidneys. This is known as bilateral tumors. 

In other cases, it can be multifocal, which is where there are several lesions in the same kidney. Also, it’s a health problem that affects both sexes equally.

Kidney Cancer in Childhood: Symptoms and Causes

Possible causes of kidney cancer in childhood

Specialists still don’t know what causes kidney cancer. However, it occurs frequently in children with genetic problems. The most likely are:

  • Those who suffer from WAGR syndromemental disabilities, malformations of the genitourinary system, and eyes without irises.
  • Denys-Drash Syndrome. Also, those with genital anomalies and nephropathy.
  • Children suffering from Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome or enlargement of abdominal organs, like the pancreas, liver, or adrenal gland. It could also be related to umbilical hernia, or only having half of the body or tongue.
  • Family history of kidney cancer.
  • Problems with the urinary tract.
  • Tuberous sclerosis. This is where there are fatty cysts on the kidney.
  • Medullary cancer of the kidney, renal cell cancer, or leiomyomatosis.

Symptoms that are usually common

At the beginning, there are usually no symptoms until you feel a swollen lump in your child’s belly. In addition, your child might have abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite or constipation. He might also have blood in the urine and high blood pressure.

If your child has kidney cancer in childhood, he might also have fevers for no apparent reason, feel tired, chest pain and weight loss. If the tumor spreads to the liver or lungs, the signs are different. Some of them are abdominal pain, cough, respiratory problems, and coughing up blood.

How to diagnose cancer

To diagnose kidney cancer in childhood, doctors will perform a physical examination to determine a child’s general health status. They will collect data on health history and habits. They’ll also do an RSC or complete blood count, along with biochemical blood studies and urinalysis.

Additionally, they’ll do an ultrasound on your child’s abdomen. That way, they’ll know the location, size, and other characteristics of the mass. It’s completely pain-free and doesn’t involve radiation.

If the results aren’t clear, they’ll also do a CAT scan, in addition to chest X-ray. They do this procedure to detect any metastasis of the disease.

Kidney Cancer in Childhood: Symptoms and Causes

You can also have a CT scan to take images of the abdomen, throat and pelvis from different angles. Another method specialists might do is an MRI. This procedure uses a magnet as well as radio waves and a computer to create images of the inside of the body.

If the specialist requests it, they’ll do a biopsy of the tumor and puncture it with a needle to remove cells or tissue to analyze.

Different possible treatments

The treatment will depend on the types of cells and severity that make up the tumor.

  1. Internal or external radiation to prevent or eliminate cancer cells by energy or radiation.
  2. When it just affects a single kidney, doctors use a combination of chemotherapy and IV drugs. They apply it before and after surgery, where they remove everything together.
  3. Stimulant substances can be used to naturally restore the body’s defenses against cancer. This is called biological therapy.
  4. Another method is high doses of chemotherapy to rescue stem cells. It’s an option to restore blood cells at the end of chemotherapy.
  5. Targeted therapy helps get rid of only cancer cells without harming normal and healthy cells.

However, some of these treatments can cause side effects for months. They can be kidney or heart problems, mood swings, thinking and learning difficulties, and even new types of cancer.

If you notice that your child has specific symptoms of kidney cancer in childhood, you should immediately call your doctor. If it’s positive and shows how far along it is, it’s important to talk about what treatment your child will need and the possible side effects.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. Recognition of Common Childhood Malignancies. Am Fam Physician; 61:2144-54. The Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging’s “Image Gently” Campaign
  • MedlinePlus. «Tumore de Wilms». Enciclopedia médica en español
  • Rojas, V. & Pérez, Y. L. Cáncer Infantil: una visión panorámica. Revista, 13(19)

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.