What is kidney cancer?
Renal cancer is a disease that forms in one or both of the kidneys, typically originating in the lining of tubules. When cancer forms in these tiny tubes it’s called renal cell carcinoma. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, which are the size of a fist, that filter waste [urine] out of the blood.
Even though the exact cause for kidney cancer is unknown, certain risk factors may increase the odds of developing kidney cancer such as:
- Hypertension/high blood pressure
- Genetic conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome, Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome, etc.
- Long-term dialysis to treat chronic kidney failure
What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?
Symptoms rarely occur in the early stages of kidney cancer, but later stage symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Blood in the urine [hematuria] causing urine to appear pink, red or cola-colored
- Persistent pain below the ribs
- Sporadic fever
What are the kinds of kidney cancer?
Renal cell carcinoma is the most common form of kidney cancer in adults. Children are more likely to develop Wilms’ tumor or nephroblastoma, which is a rare form of a cancer.
How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
The diagnosis of kidney cancer is confirmed through tests such as:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Tissue samples/biopsies
- Imaging tests, such as ultrasound, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scan
After a diagnosis is confirmed, a physician will determine the stage of the cancer. Kidney cancer stages are:
Stage I – The tumor can be up to 2 ¾ inches in diameter and is limited to the kidney.
Stage II – The tumor is larger than a Stage I tumor but is still contained within the kidney itself.
Stage III – The tumor has spread from the kidney to surrounding tissue. It might have also spread to a nearby lymph node.
Stage IV – Cancer has spread beyond the kidney to lymph nodes or other areas such as liver, lungs, bones, etc.
What is the treatment for kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer treatment relies on a variety of factors including:
- Overall health
- The stage of the kidney cancer
- The type of kidney cancer
- Treatment preferences
The most common treatment for kidney cancer is surgery. The surgical treatment options include:
Partial nephrectomy, which is also known as nephron-sparing surgery. In a partial nephrectomy, the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue is removed. This is a common treatment for small kidney cancers and is generally preferred over a radical nephrectomy. A partial nephrectomy may be performed traditionally, meaning an open procedure that results in a large incision, laparoscopically, meaning through a small incision, or through robotic technology.
Radical nephrectomy is a surgical procedure in which the diseased kidney is completely removed in addition to a margin of healthy tissue, and nearby lymph nodes. The adrenal gland, which produces a variety of hormones, may also be removed. This procedure could be performed through traditional surgery, laparoscopically or through robotic surgical technology.
Treatments When Surgery Isn’t an Option
Surgery is not always the best treatment option for kidney cancer. When surgery is not a viable option, other treatments may include:
- Cryoablation is a technique involving an X-ray-guided needle to insert gas into tumor to freeze the cancer cells.
- Radiofrequency ablation uses an X-ray-guided needle injected into the tumor, like cryoablation, but it uses an electrical current to heat and burn the cancerous cells.