Just like other cancer, kidney cancer is a type of cancer that develops when cancerous cells grow in the kidneys, forming tumors. This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and possible treatments for the condition.
What is it?
The kidneys are organs found in the lower abdomen. Their primary functions involve cleaning the blood and eliminating waste products through the production of urine.
Kidney cancer is a condition wherein the cells of the kidney become cancerous, start to multiply, and develop into tumors. Most cases first develop in the lining of the kidney’s small tubes known as “tubules.”
“Renal cell carcinoma” is the medical term for this kind of kidney cancer. Luckily, kidney cancers are often discovered before they start to metastasize to other vital organs and can be treated.
Additionally, early detected cases have a high chance of being successfully treated. The downside, however, is that some tumors grow to a large size before they are discovered.
What are its signs and symptoms?
Most kidney cancer cases do not exhibit symptoms during the early stages. However, you may begin experiencing some symptoms as the tumor grows.
Some of the telltale signs of kidney cancer are:
- Lump on the abdomen or the side
- Unintended weight loss
- Blood in the urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Constant pain on the side where the kidneys are
- Swelling of legs and ankles
- Fever due to an unknown cause
- Appetite loss
If kidney cancer has dispersed to other body parts, some symptoms may include:
- Bone pain
- Coughing up of blood
- Shortness of breath
What are the causes?
As of now, there is no established definite cause of kidney cancer. However, there are a number of possible risk factors for the condition.
Some of these factors include:
- Gender – Statistics show that males are more likely to get kidney cancer as opposed to females.
- Smoking – Smokers are twice more likely to get kidney cancer compared to non-smokers.
- Family history – Individuals with a family history of kidney cancer have higher chances of getting the same condition, particularly in siblings.
- Obesity – Being overweight can lead to hormonal changes, which in turn makes you more susceptible to developing kidney cancer.
- Genetic conditions – Those who have certain genetic disorders are more at risk for kidney cancer. An example of such a disorder is the von Hippel-Lindau disease.
- High blood pressure – Either the high blood pressure itself or the medication for it is the risk factor for kidney cancer.
- Prolonged use of pain medication – Excessive use of both prescription and over-the-counter painkillers.
- Exposure to chemicals – Frequent exposure to asbestos, benzene, cadmium, and other chemicals may be a risk for kidney cancer.
- History of other kidney disorders – Having a previous or existing kidney disease can increase the chances of having kidney cancer.
Bear in mind that even if you do not have/do any of these risk factors, you can still get kidney cancer.
Likewise, having some of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will get kidney cancer.
How is it diagnosed?
One may experience one or more of symptoms of kidney cancer but not actually have it. To verify whether or not you have it, you will have to undergo a comprehensive physical exam and take some tests.
Normally, the doctor will first check for any lumps on the side and abdomen. Additionally, you will be checked for high blood pressure, fever and other possible signs.
The doctor will also ask some questions regarding any type of medications taken, history of illnesses, lifestyle and health habits, among others.
The possible tests that a doctor may conduct for diagnosing kidney cancer include the following:
- Blood tests – to determine how well the kidneys are functioning
- Urine test – look for any complications in the urine
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) – injecting a dye on to the urinary tract, which will help highlight any tumors on an x-ray
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – makes use of radio waves and magnets to produce an image of the body’s soft tissues
- CT scan – an x-ray of the kidney to show detailed images of the organs
- Ultrasound – use of sound waves to produce an image of the kidneys and to see if the tumor is filled with fluid or solid
- Renal arteriogram – not commonly conducted but helps assess the tumor’s blood supply
Once a tumor is located, a biopsy may also be carried out to back up a kidney cancer diagnosis. However, unlike most types of cancers, doctors are usually confident once they make a diagnosis of kidney cancer.
For those who want a second opinion, doctors may opt to use needle biopsy. In this procedure, a sample of the tissue is extracted and examined for cancer cells.
This biopsy also allows the doctor to determine the aggressiveness of cancer. After a diagnosis of kidney cancer is confirmed, the doctor may have to conduct a few other tests.
This is to find out if cancer has spread to the other kidney or to other organs and parts of the body. The test to be conducted will depend on the body part that will be checked.
For instance, to see if cancer has spread to the bones, a bone scan will have to be carried out.
These various tests will enable the doctor to stage kidney cancer.
How is it treated?
The usual way to treat kidney cancer would be through surgery. In general, there are three usual kinds of surgery for kidney cancer treatment.
One of these is simple nephrectomy, wherein the affected kidney is removed. Another type of surgery is radical nephrectomy.
In this surgical procedure, the affected kidney, adrenal gland, and all surrounding tissues are removed. Most of the time, surrounding lymph nodes are also taken out.
This kind of surgery is the most commonly used for kidney cancer. Nowadays, radical nephrectomy can be carried out using a laparoscope.
This instrument allows for minimal incision. Partial nephrectomy is another type of kidney cancer surgery.
Through this procedure, the tumors and the tissues surrounding it are surgically removed. This is more often used for smaller tumors or for those whose kidneys may be damaged through other surgical procedures.
To read more about cancer treatments, read this article about the different types of cancer treatments available.