Wilms study: saving kids, saving adults

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Wilms' tumor is a childhood kidney cancer that affects about one out of every 10,000 kids in the U.S. (KFSN)

Wilms' tumor is a childhood kidney cancer that affects about one out of every 10,000 kids in the U.S. It can often be cured with surgery, chemo and radiation, but now doctors are beginning to uncover how these treatments affect survivors in adulthood.

When she was 14, Dianne MacKay developed a form of kidney cancer known as Wilms' tumor.

"The treatment was a year and a half of very intense chemotherapy, and radiation treatment as well," she told ABC30.

Then, 30 years later, MacKay was diagnosed with cancer again. This time, it was breast cancer.

"Because of the form it took, they believe the cancer was caused by radiation splatter from my original Wilms' tumor treatment 30 years earlier," she said.

Norman Breslow, PhD and a professor at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has researched thousands of Wilms patients.

"What we're doing is finding what are the long-term consequences of those treatments," he told ABC30.

More than 20 percent of Wilms' tumor survivors who had radiation to the chest developed breast cancer by age 40, compared to just .03 percent who didn't have radiation. Current guidelines only call for early breast cancer screenings if kids receive 20 or more gray units of radiation to the breast. But the Wilms kids received lower doses, between 12 and 14 gray units. Breslow and others say the recommendations need to change.

"Patients with Wilms' tumor need to be included in the group that are screened early for breast cancer," Breslow said.

MacKay is currently cancer-free and enjoying every minute with her husband.

"I've been very lucky," she said. "I've come through this twice now."

Up to 90 percent of Wilms' tumor patients can be cured today. The risk for developing Wilms' tumor is slightly higher in African Americans than Caucasians, and considerably lower among Asians. It typically affects younger kids between the ages of 2 and 4.

For more information, contact:

Kristen Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
(206) 667-5095
kwoodward@fredhutch.org
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