What You Should Know About Kidney Cancer
The kidneys filter out toxic substances from our blood before it circulates to the heart, but sometimes cancerous tumors can form in the kidneys.
What is Kidney Cancer?
We typically have two kidneys—each located above the waist on either side of the backbone. The kidney’s job is to remove waste product from our blood through tiny filters called tubules. Renal cell cancer (RCC) is a malignant growth that originates in these tubules.
Since the 1990s the incidence of kidney cancers has increased due to the introduction of more advanced diagnostic technology such as ultrasound and CT scans identifying some cancers which might not have been found otherwise. The American Cancer Society indicates kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in both men and women. Overall, the lifetime risk for developing kidney cancer in men is about 1 in 46 (2.02%). The lifetime risk for women is about 1 in 80 (1.03%).
What are the symptoms of Kidney Cancer?
You may experience the following common symptoms:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Flank mass
- Flank pain or pain in the side
- High blood pressure
- Anemia or low blood counts
- General symptoms: fatigue, weight loss, low grade fevers, bone pain
What causes Kidney Cancer?
The cause of most kidney cancers is unknown, but various risk factors have been identified: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, family history, radiation, genetic mutations and dialysis.
How is Kidney Cancer diagnosed?
What to know before your visit to MidLantic Urology in Philadelphia and surrounding counties:
- During your visit, your doctor will ask you questions regarding your medical history and will perform an exam.
Other tests that may be performed during or after your visit:
- Labs and urine testing
- CT scan or MRI of the abdomen are used to better characterize the abnormality
- A biopsy of the kidney mass may be performed although is not required prior to surgery
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, further tests (blood test to check the health of the liver, chest X-ray, bone scan) help determine if the cancer has spread beyond the kidney.
Knowing the stage of the disease helps inform the treatment plan:
- Stage I: Growth or tumor no larger than 7 cm found in kidney.
- Stage II: Tumor is larger than 7 cm found only in kidney.
- Stage III: Cancer found in kidney and extending locally into major veins or perinephric tissues.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread beyond the kidney.
How is Kidney Cancer treated?
We base our kidney cancer treatment approach on each patient’s situation.
Treatments for local growth (stages I and II) include:
- Active surveillance: Small renal tumors (less than 3cm) and elderly patients with multiple medical issues may elect to take an active surveillance approach, with follow-up to monitor symptoms and physical examination. Repeat imaging will observe the mass for growth and other changes.
- Surgery: Depending on the tumor’s size, the stage of the disease and the overall condition of the patient, the surgeon removes all or part of the kidney surrounding the tumor. This surgery is by far the most common treatment. Minimally invasive techniques using laparoscopy or robotics can often replace larger-incision approaches, reducing pain, hospitalization and recovery time.
- Percutaneous therapy: Small tumors are treated with cryoablation (freezing) or radiofrequency ablation.
- Systemic therapy: Many new and promising immunologic therapies and targeted molecular approaches are available to treat renal cancer that has spread outside the kidney.
Treatment for metastatic growths (stages III and IV):
- Surgery: While not curative, surgical removal of the kidney prior to starting chemotherapy may enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.
- Chemotherapy and immunotherapy: New treatments are available for renal cell cancer, with encouraging results in initial studies.