Michigan Cancer Cluster


A suspected cluster of rare kidney cancers occurring in Marine City, Michigan, are being investigated by Michigan health officials following the diagnosis of a six-month-old girl in March. Over the last four years, five cases have been diagnosed in this town with a population of about 5,000. The rare kidney cancer called Wilms tumor typically strikes 500 Americans annually.

Wilms tumor is a type of kidney cancer that occurs in children, and is the most common form of childhood kidney cancer. The disease occurs in about one out of 200,000 to 250,000 children. It usually strikes when a child is about three years old.

Marine City lies downstream from petrochemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario. At this point, however, health officials are not jumping to any conclusion that pollution may be a possible cause.

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • General discomfort
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased growth on only one side of the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling in the abdomen

Surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are typical treatments. Children whose tumor has not spread have a 90 percent cure rate with appropriate treatment.

Health experts say Wilms tumor is common among some siblings and twins, and believes there may be a genetic cause. They recommend screening with ultrasound of the kidneys for children with a known high risk of Wilms tumor.

By:  Nancy Zielinski