Study improves understanding of childhood kidney cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new study, part-funded by Cancer Research UK, has helped to pinpoint genetic changes in certain cells that may contribute to Wilms' tumour, the most common form of childhood kidney cancer.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, led by Dr Chris Jones, looked at clusters of embryonic cells which are left over in the kidneys of some children from when they were growing in the womb.

They carried out the first ever study of the entire sets of genes within these clusters of embryonic cells.

Dr Jones revealed: "Around one per cent of children are born with clusters of embryonic cells in their kidneys left over from growing in the womb. One in 100 of these children may then go on to develop a Wilms' tumour.

"With the information from a study published today, doctors will be able to focus on which of these clusters pose the biggest threat of developing into cancer."

The researchers found that 30 to 40 per cent of infants with Wilms' tumours have higher-risk clusters of embryonic kidney cells.

In infants where the cancer has spread to both kidneys, these clusters are found in almost 100 per cent of cases.

Dr Jones described the discovery, which is published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, as a "significant step forward".

He added: "Our findings will help locate those who are most at risk and hopefully lead to earlier diagnosis and better monitoring for patients."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, commented: "The causes of many types of childhood cancer are still unknown, so this discovery of some of the genetic changes leading to the development of Wilms' tumour is very important.

"Although most children with Wilms' tumour are successfully treated, these results could help doctors to optimise the care they are given. In addition, tests for the genetic faults could allow early detection of recurrence of the tumour and of other cases of Wilms' in the patient's family."

A recent study in Nature Genetics, conducted by  Professor Nazneen Rahman at the Institute of Cancer Research, found that five per cent of children with Wilms' tumour have defects in genes on chromosome 11 which are linked to growth.

Children with these faulty genes have a 20 per cent risk of developing Wilms' tumour, and they are also more likely to develop cancer in both kidneys, which is harder to treat.

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