Children's Hospital Colorado

Kidney Tumors in Children

What are kidney tumors?

A tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue or liquid found in the body. Tumors that are found attached to the kidneys, an organ that helps to clean the blood that circulates through the body, are known as kidney or renal tumors. Renal tumors occur very rarely in children.

While the main cause of renal tumors in children is cancer, most tumors are discovered before they spread to other organs in the body, called metastasis. In cases of kidney cancer in children, most are not diagnosed until the tumor becomes quite large. As with many cancers, when the tumor mass reaches a certain size, it can cause swelling and pain. This is usually when the cancer is discovered.

The Urologic Tumor Program at Children's Hospital Colorado treats a range of renal tumors in kids, from common types to extremely rare cases.

What causes kidney tumors in children?

Most cases of pediatric renal cancer do not have any known cause. In rare cases (less than 5%), genetic syndromes can be passed down from parents or relatives, which increases the chance that a patient will develop kidney cancer in childhood.

Who gets pediatric renal tumors?

Pediatric renal tumors can affect both boys and girls, starting from birth and going into young adulthood. Tumors are typically discovered in children when they are between 2 and 6 years old.

Types of renal tumors and renal cancers in children

  • Wilms tumor (also called nephroblastoma) is the most common type of cancerous renal tumor found in children.
  • Clear cell sarcoma is the second-most common kidney cancer found in children; it also commonly causes tumors.
  • Renal cell carcinoma (also called RCC, renal adenocarcinoma or hypernephroma) is much more rare than other kidney tumors. RCC can spread very quickly, causing more complications.

Hereditary renal tumor syndromes

Some kidney tumors are caused by genetic disorders or syndromes, including:

  • von Hippel Lindau (VHL) syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that affects multiple systems in the body. It is characterized by cysts and tumors in various parts of the body that can become malignant (cancerous). This syndrome increases the risk for renal cell carcinoma and pheochromocytomas (a rare tumor that grows on the adrenal gland, which is located at the top of each kidney).
  • Tuberous sclerosis (TSC) is a rare genetic disease that causes benign (noncancerous) tumors to grow in the brain and in other vital organs such as the kidneys, heart, liver, eyes, lungs and skin. Symptoms may include seizures, intellectual disability, developmental delay, behavioral problems, skin abnormalities, and lung and kidney disease.
  • Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) is a rare genetic disorder that can increase the risk of kidney cancer, renal and pulmonary cysts and noncancerous tumors of the hair follicles, called fibrofolliculomas.

What are the signs and symptoms of pediatric renal tumors?

Children diagnosed with kidney tumors may have experienced the following symptoms:

  • A lump or mass in the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Urogenital infections
  • Anemia (low levels of red blood cells)
  • Shortness of breath
  • A general feeling of being tired and unwell
  • Nausea and vomiting

What tests are used to diagnose pediatric renal tumors?

Several tests go into identifying and diagnosing kidney tumors in children.

  • An abdominal ultrasound records images inside the abdomen and allows doctors to see if there are any unusual masses inside the abdomen.
  • Blood tests will inform doctors if the kidneys are working properly. The kidneys’ job is to clean the blood, so when kidneys are damaged, a blood test will show high amounts of waste products in the blood.
  • A computerized tomography, or CT scan, takes many X-rays to make a 3D image. A CT scan provides a detailed image of inside the abdomen, allowing doctors to determine the size of the tumor and the best surgical technique to remove it.

At Children’s Colorado, our radiology technicians are experts at taking images such as CT scans and ultrasounds in kids. Their knowledge, combined with our modern imaging technology, means that we can complete all the tests and scans in one day. By delivering faster, more accurate results, we help reduce the stress for parents and children. We also have a team of child life specialists who can help patients understand their medical tests and reduce their stress or anxiety levels.

How we treat pediatric renal tumors

Most pediatric kidney cancers are treatable, and many can be cured. We treat kidney tumors in kids with a surgery known as a nephrectomy, which removes the tumor.

Treating kidney tumors in kids and teens requires close observation by an oncologist, a medical physician specialized in cancer. It may also require further surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and routine imaging to see if the cancer has spread or returned.

Types of renal tumor surgery

There are three types of nephrectomies:

  • A radical nephrectomy removes the whole kidney.
  • A partial nephrectomy removes part of the kidney.
  • A minimally invasive radical nephrectomy removes the kidney tumor using minimally invasive surgery.

Why choose Children’s Colorado to treat pediatric renal tumors?

Because proper treatment for kidney tumors in children is not always straightforward, we believe it helps to get advice from physicians with abundant experience treating this cancer. At Children’s Colorado, experts in our Urologic Tumor Program have extensive experience managing pediatric kidney cancer for kids of all ages. We are experienced with all phases of care for renal tumors and can provide care for patients in all stages of the disease. As a hospital, we are fortunate to have one of the few pediatric urologists in the world who is also fellowship-trained in urologic oncology, Nicholas Cost, MD. Our medical experts are also active in clinical trials and research, always striving to find more effective, innovative ways to treat pediatric renal cancer.

At Children’s Colorado, we treat each patient as an individual, offering customized treatment for every case and every patient. We proudly provide both traditional and advanced options for treatment, as well as access to the latest research on pediatric kidney cancer.

Pediatric renal tumor resources

For more information on kidney tumors in children, visit:

  • The Children’s Oncology Group: A National Cancer Institute-supported clinical trials group and the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research.
  • CureSearch for Children’s Cancer: A nonprofit foundation working to find and accelerate cures for childhood cancer.
  • The National Cancer Institute: The U.S. government’s principal agency for cancer research, providing the most recent advances in cancer and cancer research.
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