Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, ranks 8th in the list of the most common types of cancer in adults in the UK. When a person has kidney cancer, it means that their kidney cells have become cancerous or malignant and have grown out of control thus forming a tumor. Almost all cancers of the kidney first show in the tubules’ lining. Tubules are tiny tubes in the kidney. This specific type of kidney cancer is known as renal cell carcinoma. The good thing is that most cancers are found before they start spreadingto other organs. When cancer is caught early, it becomes easy to treat successfully.
Kidney Cancer Symptoms
In most cases, people do not have any early kidney cancer symptoms. As the tumor enlarges, symptoms may start to appear. Patients may start experiencing one or even more of the following symptoms:
- Blood in urine
- A lump in the abdomen or the side of the body
- Appetite loss
- Persistent pain on the side
- Weight loss that happens for unknown reasons
- Fever that lasts for weeks. The fever is not caused by an infection like a cold.
- Extreme fatigue
- Swollen legs or ankles
Kidney cancer that has metastasized may also cause the following symptoms:
- Bone pain
- Coughing blood
- Shortness of breath
When to See a Doctor
See your doctor if you experience persistent kidney cancer symptoms or signs that cause you worry. This is especially so when you:
- Have blood in urine
- Notice a swelling or lump in the abdomen
- Have persistent abdominal pain
- Lose weight for no good reason
- Have extreme fatigue
Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
Maybe you have experienced kidney cancer symptoms. Maybe you went in for routine check up, and the doctor found a lump at the side or some other sign linked to kidney cancer. In any case, a comprehensive physical exam, tests and health history are required to confirm the kidney cancer diagnosis.
The doctor will check for lumps by feeling your side and abdomen. The doctor will also check for high blood pressure and fever among other things. You will also have to answer questions about your past illnesses (if any), treatment types and health habits.
To make a kidney cancer diagnosis, your doctor will order tests such as:
- Urine tests: to look for blood in the urine and other signs of any problems.
- Blood tests: to show how your kidneys are functioning.
- CT scan: This uses a computer and X-ray to create several detailed pictures of the kidneys. This might also need a dye injection. CT scans have replaced ultrasound and pyelogram as kidney diagnosing tools.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This uses strong radio and magnet waves to create detailed images of the soft tissues in the body. To get better pictures, you may have to be injected with a contrast agent.
- Renal arteriogram: This is a test used in the evaluation of blood supply to a tumor. It is not a test often performed, but it also helps diagnose tumors and even small tumors.
Unlike other cancers, the doctor can be sure about the kidney diagnosis even without a biopsy. Occasionally, a biopsy is done to confirm diagnosis and tell the cancer’s grade. During a biopsy, the doctor may use a needle biopsy to remove some sample tissue, which is examined for signs of cancer cells under a microscope. Often, the surgeon removes the whole tumor and then has a tissue sample from it examined. Once the doctor diagnoses kidney cancer, you may require more tests to find out whether the cancer hasspread to other body parts.
Risk Factors of Kidney Cancer
Doctors are yet to establish the exact cause of kidney cancer. However, there are some risk factors that seem to increase the risk of a person getting kidney cancer. For instance, kidney cancer is often found in people who are over 40 years old. Here are some more risk factors:
- Smoking: Itincreases your risk for kidney cancer twice as much as non-smokers.
- Medication: Your risk for kidney cancer increases when you use certain medications for long. This is inclusive of O.T.C drugs and prescription drugs.
- Gender and ethnicity: Men are twice as likely to get kidney cancer as women. African-Americans are also at a higher risk of getting kidney cancer compared to other races.
- Disease-related factors: Obesity causes hormonal changes which increase the risk. When you have long-term kidney dialysis, high blood pressure or lymphoma, your risk increases.
- Others: There are some genetic conditions that increase the risk for kidney cancer like papillary renal cell carcinoma (inherited) or VHL (von Hippel-Lindau). If there is family history of kidney cancer, the risk increases especially in siblings. Exposure to certain chemicals also increases the risk for kidney cancer, such as benzene, certain herbicides, organic solvents, cadmium and asbestos.
Treatments of Kidney Cancer
You should discuss with your doctor about your kidney cancer treatment options. This decision should base on many things, including your health conditions, your kidney cancer type and grade.
Nephrectomy is the operation done to have the kidneys removed, and can be divided into several different types, which mainly depends on the type of tumor. Other types of nephrectomy include radical nephrectomy where the adrenal glands, entire kidney and some tissues surrounding the kidney are removed. There is also simple nephrectomy where the kidney is the only thing being removed and partial nephrectomy where the kidney part with the tumor is removed.
2. Arterial Embolization
This is a therapy that is done to shrink the tumor. It is sometimes performed before a surgery to make it easier for the surgeons to remove the tumor. It is also used as a way of relieving the symptoms of kidney cancer.
3. Radiation Therapy
This therapy uses high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells in a specific area. A large machine is used to direct radiation. It takes place about 5 times a week for a few weeks.
4. Biological Therapy
This is a systemic therapy. It takes advantage of the body’s natural immune system using substances that will travel via the bloodstream to reach the affected cells all over the body.
This is also a systemic type of therapy. Although effective for many other cancers, most anticancer medications have shown limited use against kidney cancer.
Watch a video about the diagnosis and treatment of kidney cancer: