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.