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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

A Wilms Tumor Success Story

Ryan Bendoff was having a blast in the pool at the summer day camp near his Northbrook, Ill., home. But after another swimmer accidentally kicked him in the stomach, the six-year old boy's complaints about abdominal pain worried his counselors. Ryan's mother, Tammy, picked up her young son and rushed him to a local emergency room. 

With one of the highest cure rates among all childhood cancers, Wilms tumor is known as a "success story" in pediatric oncology.

Tammy describes the next few hours and days in July 2011 as a blur. "The ER doctors said there was a tumor in Ryan's right kidney the size of a grapefruit," she recalled, "and that a helicopter from the University of Chicago Medicine was already on its way."

Just hours later, Tammy and her husband, Mike, met with University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital hematologist/oncologist Susan Cohn, MD. They soon learned that the growth in their son's kidney was a Wilms tumor. A common pediatric cancer and the most prevalent type of kidney cancer, Wilms tumors are usually asymptomatic.

"In a typical case, a mother may feel a hard lump in her young child's belly while giving him or her a bath and brings the child to a doctor," Cohn said. "The kick to Ryan's stomach ruptured the tumor, causing bleeding and pain." Tammy added, "That kick turned out to be a blessing."

The good news for the Bendoff family: With one of the highest cure rates among all childhood cancers, Wilms tumor is known as a "success story" in pediatric oncology.

"Wilms tumor is very sensitive to radiation and chemotherapy," said Cohn, an expert on the disease. "Since 1975, successive clinical trials in North America and Europe have focused on improving outcomes by continuously fine-tuning the treatment. Using clinical factors and tumor markers we can determine which patients will need more intensive therapy to be cured and which ones can be cured with less. In most cases, the dosages of chemotherapy and radiation needed are fairly low, and the kids tolerate therapy well with minimal long-term toxicities."

Ryan Bendoff

Ryan's treatment plan included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. On July 30, pediatric surgeon Deborah Loeff, MD, removed the kidney and the tumor. After the first grader recovered from surgery, he underwent daily radiation to his abdomen for two weeks, followed by intermittent chemotherapy for six months.

"He was always smiling, laughing and joking around with the staff during his therapy," Tammy said. "Everyone at the hospital knew him." Ryan finished treatment the following January and Loeff removed the portable catheter (a device implanted under the skin to deliver chemotherapy) on June 9, 2012, the day before the youngster's 7th birthday.

Except for scans and blood work, Tammy says Ryan is now living a normal life again. "He went back to day camp this summer and enjoyed every minute of it," she said.

"Ryan is doing wonderfully and his prognosis is superb," Cohn said. "He has greater than a 95 percent chance of a lifelong cure."

The success in Wilms highlights clinical trial cooperation in pediatrics.