When cells in the kidney become malignant or cancerous, they grow out of control forming a tumor, in one or both kidneys, resulting in kidney cancer. In adults, renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer. Other less common types of kidney cancer can occur rarely. Young children are more likely to develop a kind of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor. RCC accounts for 90 percent of all kidney cancers. The cancerous cells typically develop in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney, called tubules. Kidney cancer usually doesn’t have signs or symptoms in its early stages. Sometimes, symptoms do not appear until cancer has spread to other parts of the body, usually the lymph nodes, lungs, or bones.
The first signs and symptoms of kidney cancer may include
- Hematuria (Blood in the urine)
- Brown or rusty colored urine because of blood in the urine
- Unexplained weight loss
- Low back pain
- A mass or lump on the side or lower back
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Loss of appetite
Other signs and symptoms that may occur as the cancer progress are
- Vision abnormalities
- Elevated blood pressure
- Recurrent fever
- Pale skin
- Liver dysfunction
- Elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- Swelling of the veins around a testicle (varicocele)
- Excessive hair growth in females
What are the causes of kidney cancer?
The exact cause is unknown. Research suggests that two genes on the short arm of chromosome 3 (PRC and TFE 3) may be involved in the development of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Another gene, Von Hippel–Lindau (VHL), has also been linked with kidney cancer.
The following risk factors may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.
- Family history of the disease
- High blood pressure
- Horseshoe kidney
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Kidney failure
- Dialysis treatment
- Long-term use of certain medicines such as pain killers or diuretics
- Birt–Hogg-Dubé syndrome (genetic disease associated with benign skin tumors and lung cysts)
- VHL disease (hereditary disease affecting blood vessels in eyes, brain, and other body parts)
How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
Besides the signs and symptoms, a physical examination by the doctor may reveal a mass or swelling in the abdomen.
Some diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of cancer and the stage may be advised by the doctor. These include
- Abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan
- Abdominal ultrasonography
- Ultrasound of the abdomen and kidney
- Renal arteriography
- Urine analysis
- Liver function tests
- Intravenous pyelogram
- Blood chemistry
- Complete blood count (CBC)
The following tests may be done to check the spread (metastasis) of cancer to other parts of the body.
- Chest X-ray
- Chest CT scan
- Abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Bone scan
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
4 Stages of kidney cancer
Cancer staging ranges from Stage 1 to Stage 4 and is a very important system to determine the spread.
Stage 1: Tumors are confined to the kidney and are usually less than 7 cm in diameter.
Stage 2: Tumors involve the fat or adrenal tissues of the kidney and are greater than 7 cm in diameter.
Stage 3: Tumors have spread to the regional kidney tissues or lymph nodes and kidney veins or vena cava.
Stage 4: Tumors have spread outside the kidney to distant sites in the body or other organs (liver, colon, pancreas, stomach, etc.)
How is kidney cancer treated? 6 Options
Treatment depends on the stage and extent of kidney cancer. 6 Treatment options include
- Surgery: This involves surgical removal of part or whole of the kidney (nephrectomy). This may include the removal of the bladder, surrounding tissues, or lymph nodes.
- Chemotherapy: Antitumor drugs and targeted medicines that target the development of blood vessels feeding the tumor may help.
- Immunotherapy: Newer immune system medicines may help.
- Hormone treatments: These may reduce the growth of the tumor in some cases.
- Ablation: This refers to the destruction of tumor cells by cryotherapy, radiofrequency, or embolization.
- Radiation therapy: This is usually done when cancer spreads to the bone or brain.
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