Kidneys are bean-shaped pair of organs located on the either side of the spine in the lower abdomen. They form a part of the urinary tract. The major functions of the kidneys are to clean the blood, and remove waste products and extra water in the form of urine.
Kidney cancer or renal cancer is a disease of the kidney cells that may form benign or malignant tumour. Renal cell carcinoma is the most common kidney cancer in adults, and it affects the tiny tubes of the kidneys. Men are more predisposed to kidney cancer than women and it appears mostly at the age of 50 to 70.
The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown. There are certain factors that may increase the risk of kidney cancer. These include:
- prolonged dialysis treatment for chronic kidney failure
- family history
- high blood pressure
- polycystic kidney disease
- Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome: a hereditary disease
Sometimes occupational exposure to certain substances and chemicals may also increase the risk of kidney cancer.
The symptoms of the kidney cancer include
- blood in the urine that may be pink, red or rust coloured
- constant back pain just below the ribs
- lump in the side of the abdomen
- unreasonable weight loss
- intermittent fever and swelling in the ankle and legs
Other symptoms such as excessive hair growth in females, pale skin and vision problems may also develop. If the cancer spreads to the other parts of the body, it may be characterized by symptoms such as coughing up blood, shortness of breath, and bone pain.
When you present with the symptoms of kidney cancer, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination to determine the general health of your body and check for the presence of any mass or swelling in the abdomen.
Other tests, such as blood, urine test or intravenous pyelogram (IVP), may be ordered to investigate the presence of abnormalities in the kidneys. Advanced imaging tests such as MRI, CT scan or ultrasound of the abdomen and kidney may be performed to visualize any tumour or abnormality.
Your doctor may also order a biopsy, bone scan and chest X-ray to determine the spread of the malignancy of the tumour.
From the diagnostic tests, your doctor will be able to determine the stage of the kidney cancer. The severity of kidney cancer is characterized into 4 stages:
Stage 1: Cancer is completely embedded in the kidney and is less than 7 cm across
Stage 2: Cancer is more than 7 cm and is completely embedded in the kidney
Stage 3: Cancer has spread into the adrenal gland present above the kidney or into one of the nearby major veins, and a few cancer cells are present in the lymph node
Stage 4: Cancer has spread into surrounding tissues or another part of the body, and cancer cells are found in more than one lymph node.
Once your doctor is aware of the stage of your kidney cancer, they will be able to design an appropriate treatment plan to manage the disease.
Surgery is the most recommended treatment for kidney cancer. It may include complete or partial removal of the kidney. During complete removal, your surgeon may also remove a border of healthy tissue and the nearby lymph nodes.
During partial removal, only the tumour is removed along with a small margin of the surrounding healthy tissue.
If surgical treatment is not possible, non-surgical treatment may be performed. This may include:
- Cryotherapy to freeze the cancer cells
- Radiofrequency ablation to damage the cancer cells with heat
- Certain medications
- Targeted therapy to treat the underlying cause of cancer
- Radiation therapy, which uses high-frequency rays to reduce or control cancer spread to other parts of the body.