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About the Childhood Kidney Tumor Program

  • Kidney (renal) tumors grow in the tissues of the kidneys. They're rare and typically respond well to treatment. The most common kidney tumor is Wilms tumor, also known as nephroblastoma. Approximately 9 out of 10 kidney tumors in children are Wilms tumors.

    Our kidney tumor specialists treat children with the most complex cases at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. They use specialized treatments, such as stem cell transplantation, to help children return to normal, daily activities.

    We diagnose and treat all types of kidney tumors at our Childhood Solid Tumor Center.

    Childhood kidney tumors include:

    • Wilms tumor is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. It can occur at any age between infancy and age 15 but is most common in children age 5 or younger.
    • Nephroblastomatosis is a condition in which abnormal tissue grows on the outer part of one or both kidneys. Children with this condition are at risk for developing a type of Wilms tumor that grows quickly.
    • Malignant rhabdoid tumor is a type of cancer that occurs mostly in infants and young children. It grows and spreads quickly, often to the lungs and brain.
    • Clear cell sarcoma of the kidney is a type of kidney tumor that may spread to the lung, bone, brain, and soft tissue.
    • Neuroepithelial tumors of the kidney are rare and usually occur in young adults. They grow and spread quickly.
    • Desmoplastic small round cell tumor of the kidney is a rare soft tissue sarcoma.
    • Cystic partially differentiated nephroblastoma is a very rare type of Wilms tumor made up of cysts.
    • Renal cell carcinoma is rare in children or in adolescents younger than 15 years of age. However, it is much more common in adolescents between 15 and 19 years of age. Renal cell carcinomas can spread to the lungs, bones, liver, and lymph nodes.
    • Mesoblastic nephroma is a tumor of the kidney that is usually diagnosed within the first year of life and can usually be cured.
    • Primary renal synovial sarcoma is a rare tumor of the kidney and is most common in young adults.
    • Anaplastic sarcoma of the kidney is a rare tumor that is most commonly found in children or adolescents younger than 15 years of age.

    How We Diagnose and Treat Childhood Kidney Tumors

    We diagnose kidney tumors by using several different diagnostic tests to determine the tumor type and location. These tests may include advanced imaging studies, biopsies, and blood and urine tests.

    Starting at diagnosis, our multidisciplinary cancer specialists from Dana-Farber/Boston Children's work together to care for your child's health before, during, and after treatment.

    We typically treat kidney tumors with surgery, also known as nephrectomy. We may also recommend radiation therapy when necessary. Our pediatric radiation oncologists and interventional radiologists use minimally invasive approaches, such as radiofrequency ablation, whenever possible.

    After treatment, we continue to care for your child through our pediatric survivorship programs. We monitor your child's health regularly to manage disease complications and late effects of treatment. Children and families also have access to support groups and counseling to help the transition from cancer treatment to life after treatment.

    Clinical Trials and Research for Childhood Kidney Tumors

    Members of our Kidney Tumor Program also oversee laboratory and clinical research designed to improve understanding and treatment of childhood kidney tumors.

    Because Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is the regional Phase I center for the Children's Oncology Group, a collaborative research organization dedicated to improving the treatment of childhood cancers, our center offers treatments unavailable at other regional institutions. We also collaborate with other pediatric centers across the country to offer unique treatment options.

    Our current research includes:

    • Identifying the best treatment for Wilms tumor: Major advancements have occurred in the treatment of Wilms tumor over the last two decades, primarily due to studies by the National Wilms Tumor Study Group, of which Dana-Farber/Boston Children's has been a member. These studies have rigorously compared treatment regimens and helped define the right treatment for each stage and type of Wilms tumor. In one large study, it was shown that for low stage Wilms tumor briefer courses of therapy were safer and as effective as longer courses.
    • Risk-stratifying treatment of children with bilateral tumors: The traditional treatment for pediatric kidney tumors is a two-step process: Surgeons remove as much of the tumor as possible, then oncologists use chemotherapy to destroy remaining cancerous cells. If the tumor is bilateral (appearing in both kidneys), chemotherapy is sometimes also used before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor. Our researchers are investigating the use of continuous pathological review throughout treatment to evaluate the best therapeutic approach for bilateral pediatric kidney tumors.
    • Searching for markers: Researchers are conducting studies to better understand how to diagnose and treat renal (kidney) tumors. Researchers at our center are investigating whether kidney tumors emit markers in a child's urine. If discovered, these markers could be used to screen for early recurrence of relapsed cancers. They may also help clinicians screen types of tumors so that treatments can be personalized to the specific make-up of a child's tumor.

    Our researchers are also global leaders in the basic and translational study of rhabdoid tumors, including malignant rhabdoid tumor of the kidney and atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT), a rare tumor of the brain. Their goal is to understand the biological basis of rhabdoid tumors, including the role(s) of mutations in the gene, SMARCB1, and to develop more effective treatment methods for children with these tumors.

    Learn more about clinical trials for pediatric cancer.

    Our Childhood Kidney Tumors Program Specialists

    We have pediatric kidney tumor experts that range from medical oncologists and surgeons to specialized nurses and support staff. Our kidney tumors team includes:

    • Pediatric oncologists
    • Pediatric surgeons
    • Pediatric radiologists
    • Pathologists
    • Radiotherapists
    • Nursing staff
    • Support staff including psychologists, child life specialists, nutritionists, and more

    See our entire Childhood Solid Tumor Treatment Team.