Solid tumor is a term used to describe many forms of cancer that can happen throughout the body. Some types of cancerous (malignant) tumors tend to occur in young children, and others occur in adolescents and young adults. Different tumor types tend to occur in particular body locations, leading to characteristic signs and symptoms, such as bone pain in children with bone tumors, or swelling in the abdomen in children with Wilms tumor or neuroblastoma. Some children may be very ill, and some children may not have any symptoms at all.
Wilms tumor (also called Wilms’ tumor or nephroblastoma) is a type of childhood cancer that starts in the kidneys. It is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. About 9 of 10 kidney cancers in children are Wilms tumors.
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. To learn more about how cancers start and spread, see What Is Cancer? For information about the differences between childhood cancers and adult cancers, see Cancer in Children.
Bone tumors can affect any bone in the body and develop in any part of the bone—from the surface to the center of the bone, called the bone marrow. A growing bone tumor—even a benign tumor—destroys healthy tissue and weakens bone, making it more vulnerable to fracture.
When a bone tumor is cancerous, it is either a primary bone cancer or a secondary bone cancer. A primary bone cancer actually begins in bone—while a secondary bone cancer begins somewhere else in the body and then metastasizes or spreads to bone. Secondary bone cancer is also called metastatic bone disease.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body. Neuroblastoma most commonly affects children age 5 or younger, though it may rarely occur in older children.
Neuroblastoma most commonly arises in and around the adrenal glands, which have similar origins to nerve cells and sit atop the kidneys. However, neuroblastoma can also develop in other areas of the abdomen and in the chest, neck and near the spine, where groups of nerve cells exist.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of sarcoma. Sarcoma is cancer of soft tissue (such as muscle), connective tissue (such as tendon or cartilage), or bone. Rhabdomyosarcoma usually begins in muscles that are attached to bones and that help the body move, but it may begin in many places in the body. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children.
Hepatoblastoma is the most common liver cancer of childhood, although it affects only 2 to 3 people in a million. It affects children during the first three years of life and usually presents as an abdominal mass which causes pain and discomfort. A large percentage of these tumors occur in children who are born premature. The tumor can be cured with surgical removal. If surgical removal is hazardous because of size and location of this tumor inside the liver, cure is still possible with liver transplantation.
A brain tumor is a collection, or mass, of abnormal cells in your brain. Your skull, which encloses your brain, is very rigid. Any growth inside such a restricted space can cause problems. Brain tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). When benign or malignant tumors grow, they can cause the pressure inside your skull to increase. This can cause brain damage, and it can be life-threatening.
Brain tumors are categorized as primary or secondary. A primary brain tumor originates in your brain. Many primary brain tumors are benign. A secondary brain tumor, also known as a metastatic brain tumor, occurs when cancer cells spread to your brain from another organ, such as your lung or breast.
Germ cell tumors arise in the ovaries (in girls), the testes (in boys), and in several other locations, including the lower back (common in infancy), the abdomen, the chest, and within the brain. Germ cell tumors starting within the brain are discussed further under Brain Tumors.
Germ cell tumors in the testes of an adolescent male commonly present as an enlarging, solid mass, which may be painful. Within the ovaries, germ cell tumors can usually be distinguished from ovarian cysts, which are much more common, using ultrasound. Germ cell tumors can spread to lymph nodes, lung, liver, and brain. Some germ cell tumors secrete hormones that can lead to changes resembling puberty. Germ cell tumors are more common, but still rare, in undescended testes that were not corrected. Abnormal ovaries or testes due to genetic syndromes (such as Turner’s or Klinefelter’s) are also at higher risk.
Wilms tumors occur most often in young children. These tumors often grow quite large before causing any symptoms. Children may look healthy and act and play normally.
Overall, about 9 of 10 children with Wilms tumors are cured. A great deal of progress has been made in treating this disease in recent decades. Much of this progress is the result of children with Wilms tumors taking part in clinical trials of new treatments.
Today, most children with this cancer are treated in a clinical trial to try to improve on what doctors believe is the best treatment. The goal of these studies is to find ways to cure as many children as possible while limiting side effects by giving as little treatment as needed.
Most children with Wilms tumors will get more than one type of treatment. The main types of treatment are:
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