Last updated: September 6, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Nephroblastoma (Wilms tumor) is the most common renal malignancy in children, typically affecting children between 2 and 5 years of age. A minority of cases are associated with specific syndromes (e.g., WAGR, Beckwith-Wiedemann) and gene mutations (e.g., WT1). Nephroblastoma is typically an incidental finding that manifests as a large abdominal mass. Other signs and symptoms may occur, such as hematuria and abdominal pain, especially in tumors that are large, ruptured, or metastasized. Treatment consists of tumor resection and chemotherapy for all stages (except for very low-risk tumors), while radiation is predominantly used in advanced disease.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

References: [1]

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

The exact etiology of nephroblastoma remains unknown, but it is associated with several genetic mutations and syndromes.

Genetic predisposition [2][3]

Associated syndromes [5]

WAGR syndrome consists of Wilms tumor, Aniridia, Genitourinary anomalies, and Range of intellectual disability.

Denys-Drash syndrome is a mild form of WAGR without aniridia or intellectual disability.

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Abdominal symptoms

  • Palpable abdominal mass (often found incidentally)
    • Non-tender
    • Unilateral and large but not crossing midline
    • Smooth and firm
  • Abdominal pain (∼ 40% of cases)

Other signs and symptoms

Nephroblastoma should be suspected in a toddler with a non-tender abdominal mass, especially if it is firm, smooth, and associated with hematuria and/or hypertension.

Careless palpation of a nephroblastoma can result in rupture of the renal capsule and tumor spillage!

Stagestoggle arrow icon

National Wilms Tumor Study (NWTS) system [8]
Stage Tumor location Tumor spread Surgery
  • Unilateral
  • Complete resection with no tumor beyond the excision margins
  • Unilateral
  • Unilateral
  • Incomplete resection with residual tumor remaining postoperatively (e.g., not resectable due to infiltration into vital structures)
  • Unilateral
  • Bilateral

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Biopsy is usually reserved for assessing nodules that are suspected metastases, as tumor capsule rupture and spillage results in more advanced staging and intensive treatment.

Pathologytoggle arrow icon


  • Nephroblastoma consists of embryonic glomerular structures.
  • May include cysts, hemorrhage, or necrosis
  • Typically has a pseudocapsule


  • Classic type: consists of three cell types
    • Epithelial cells (i.e., glomeruli and tubules)
    • Stromal cells
    • Undifferentiated blastemal cells of metanephric origin
  • Anaplastic type

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon


Differential diagnosis of nephroblastoma and neuroblastoma [9]
Nephroblastoma Neuroblastoma
Clinical findings (e.g., fever, weight loss)
  • Less common
  • More common
CT/MRI findings (e.g., calcifications, vascular encasement, midline crossing)
  • Less common
  • More common
I-123 MIBG scan
  • Negative
  • Positive (∼ 90% of cases)
Catecholamine metabolites in urine (VMA, HVA)
  • Negative
  • Positive (∼ 70–90% of cases)

Other renal tumors

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Treatment of nephroblastoma according to stage
Treatment Stages I and II Stages III and IV Stage V (bilateral)
Surgery Renal parenchymal-sparing resection
  • No
  • Yes
  • Yes
  • No
Chemotherapy Preoperative chemotherapy
  • No
  • Yes
  • No
  • Yes
Dactinomycin and vincristine
  • Yes
  • No
  • Possible
  • Yes

Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • Good prognosis: survival rates are > 90% [10]
  • The majority of tumor recurrences happen within two years of treatment.

Preventiontoggle arrow icon

  • Regular screening of children with associated syndromes (e.g., abdominal ultrasound every three months until the age of 8)

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Key Statistics for Wilms Tumors. Updated: January 8, 2012. Accessed: November 3, 2020.
  2. Cristy Ruteshouser E, Robinson SM, Huff V . Wilms Tumor Genetics: Mutations in WT1, WTX, and CTNNB1 Account for Only About One-Third of Tumors. Genes Chromosomes Cancer. 2008; 47 (6): p.461-470.doi: 10.1002/gcc.20553 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  3. King-Underwood L, Pritchard-Jones K. Wilms' Tumor (WT1) Gene Mutations Occur Mainly in Acute Myeloid Leukemia and May Confer Drug Resistance. Blood. 1998; 91 (8): p.2961-2968.
  4. D. Dao. Multipoint analysis of human chromosome 11p15/mouse distal chromosome 7: inclusion of H19/IGF2 in the minimal WT2 region, gene specificity of H19 silencing in Wilms' tumorigenesis and methylation hyper-dependence of H19 imprinting. Hum Mol Genet. 1999; 8 (7): p.1337-1352.doi: 10.1093/hmg/8.7.1337 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  5. Scott RH. Syndromes and constitutional chromosomal abnormalities associated with Wilms tumour. J Med Genet. 2006; 43 (9): p.705-715.doi: 10.1136/jmg.2006.041723 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  6. Fischbach BV. WAGR syndrome: a clinical review of 54 cases. Pediatrics. 2005; 116 (4): p.984-988.doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-0467 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  7. Denys-Drash Syndrome. Updated: October 1, 2018. Accessed: October 31, 2018.
  8. How Is Wilms Tumor Staged?. Updated: February 16, 2016. Accessed: February 28, 2017.
  9. Dickson PV, Sims TL, Streck CJ et al. AVOIDING MISDIAGNOSING NEUROBLASTOMA AS WILMS TUMOR. J Pediatr Surg. 2008; 43 (6): p.1159–1163.doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2008.02.047 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  10. Phelps H, Kaviany S, Borinstein S, Lovvorn H. Biological Drivers of Wilms Tumor Prognosis and Treatment. Children. 2018; 5 (11): p.145.doi: 10.3390/children5110145 . | Open in Read by QxMD

Icon of a lock3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer