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Can Wilms Tumors Be Found Early?

Wilms tumors are usually found when they start to cause symptoms such as swelling in the abdomen (belly), but by this point they have often grown quite large. They can be found earlier in some children with tests such as an ultrasound of the abdomen. (See Tests for Wilms Tumors.) But because Wilms tumors are rare, it’s not practical to use ultrasound exams to screen all children for them. (Screening is testing for a disease like cancer in people with no signs or symptoms.) There are no blood tests or other tests that are useful in screening otherwise healthy children for Wilms tumors.

For children at increased risk

On the other hand, screening is very important for children who have syndromes or birth defects known to be linked to Wilms tumors. For these children, most doctors recommend physical exams by a specialist and ultrasound exams of the kidneys on a regular basis (for example, about every 3 or 4 months at least until the age of 7) to find any kidney tumors when they are still small and have not yet spread to other organs.

Wilms tumor can also run in families, although this is rare. Talk to your doctor if you have any relatives who have had a Wilms tumor. If you do, the children in your family may need to have regular ultrasound exams of the abdomen. If a person is known to have a WT1 gene mutation, genetic testing can be done to see if they have passed the mutation on to their children. (This can be done even before birth.)

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Chintagumpala M, Muscal JA. Presentation, diagnosis, and staging of Wilms tumor. UpToDate. Accessed at on August 22, 2018.

Kalish JM, Doros L, Helman LJ, et al. Surveillance recommendations for children with overgrowth syndromes and predisposition to Wilms tumors and hepatoblastoma. Clin Cancer Res. 2017;23(13):e115-e122.

Last Revised: October 17, 2018

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