What’s New in Wilms Tumor Research and Treatment?

Over the past few decades, research into Wilms tumor has led to great advances and much higher cure rates for this type of cancer. Still, not all children are cured, and even those who are cured might still have long-term side effects from treatment, so more research is needed.

In the United States, much of the research on Wilms tumor is coordinated by the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), whose main goal is to improve the treatment and quality of life of children with Wilms tumor and other types of cancer. COG is a large group of doctors, nurses, scientists, and other health professionals whose hard work has already saved the lives of many children with Wilms tumor.

Biology of Wilms tumors

Research is continuing to unravel how changes in certain genes cause Wilms tumors and affect how aggressive tumors are likely to be.

As doctors have learned how to treat Wilms tumors more effectively, they have begun to look for ways to determine which children might be spared from more intense treatment and which children might need more aggressive treatment to be cured. For example, recent studies have shown that Wilms tumors with certain changes on chromosomes 1 or 16 seem to be more likely to come back after treatment. Doctors are now studying whether children with such tumors might benefit from more intense treatment.

Researchers are also studying the gene changes that seem to cause Wilms tumor cells to grow and spread. This may lead to treatments that specifically target these changes.

Treatment of Wilms tumors

Researchers continue to study ways to improve treatment for children with Wilms tumors.

Earlier studies found treatments that were very effective in curing Wilms tumors with favorable histology. Current clinical trials are studying ways to treat these cancers successfully while reducing side effects as much as possible. For example, studies are looking at whether young children with very favorable outlooks need any treatment other than surgery. Recent studies from Europe have suggested that in some cases chemo may not need to be continued as long as previously thought.

The outlook for children with Wilms tumors with unfavorable histology is not as good, and doctors are looking for better treatments for these children. Newer chemotherapy drugs such as topotecan and irinotecan are now being tested.

Other studies are looking at stem cell transplants, which let doctors give higher doses of chemo than the body normally could tolerate. This approach might help treat tumors that are not responding to standard treatments or that would otherwise have a poor outlook.

As researchers have learned more about the gene changes in Wilms tumor cells, they have started to develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes. Targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy drugs. They sometimes work when chemo drugs don’t, and they often have different (and less severe) side effects. Targeted therapies have already become standard treatments for some kinds of adult cancers.

Because Wilms tumors with favorable histology are usually cured with surgery and chemotherapy, and because Wilms tumors with unfavorable histology are uncommon, most research on targeted drugs so far has been done on cells growing in lab dishes or in animals. But eventually researchers hope to test these new drugs with children in clinical trials, so that these drugs may someday have a role in treating unfavorable histology Wilms tumors.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 6, 2015 Last Revised: February 16, 2016

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