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Scientists home in on the origins of childhood kidney cancer

02.12.2008
Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research have made significant progress in pinpointing two new risk factors associated with the most common childhood kidney cancer, known as Wilms tumour.

The research published in Clinical Cancer Research today found that specific genetic changes in certain cells may cause childhood kidney cancer.

Lead scientist, Dr Chris Jones at The Institute of Cancer Research says:

“This discovery is a significant step forward and our findings will help locate those who are most at risk and hopefully lead to earlier diagnosis and better monitoring for patients.”

The work is the first to study the entire genome (collection of genes that a person has) within these clusters of cells by analysing ‘DNA copy number changes’.

“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 a hundred 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,” Dr Jones said.

Around 70 children are diagnosed with Wilms tumour in the UK each year, the most common childhood renal cancer, affecting approximately one in every 10,000 children. Wilms Tumour is very treatable and most children can be cured. However, if both kidneys are affected the cure rate is lower and it is more difficult to preserve kidney function.

These higher risk clusters of embryonic kidney cells, are found in 30-40 per cent of infants with Wilms. Where the cancer has spread to both kidneys, these clusters are found in close to 100 per cent of cases.

This latest advance comes hot on the heels of a paper published in November by Professor Nazneen Rahman, Professor of Human Genetics, at The Institute of Cancer Research, which showed that 5 per cent of children with Wilms tumour develop the condition because they have defects in growth genes on chromosome 11. Children with the growth gene abnormalities face about a 20 per cent risk of developing Wilms Tumour and it is also more likely for these children to develop cancer in both kidneys.

The study, published in Nature Genetics, involved 437 children with Wilms tumour from ten British childhood cancer centres and 29 families with more than one child with this form of cancer from around the world.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “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.”

Cathy Beveridge | alfa
Further information:
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org
http://www.icr.ac.uk

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