What you need to know about kidney cancer

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What you need to know about kidney cancer

Kidney cancer is one of the top 10 most common cancers diagnosed in the United States.  In 2017, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 63,990 new cases of kidney cancer will occur and about 14,400 people will die from this disease. If the cancer is caught at an early stage (stage 1 or 11) there is a 75-80 percent survival rate.

What is kidney cancer?

Cancer cells growing in the kidney will be diagnosed as kidney cancer.  There are different forms of kidney cancer – the most common found in adults is renal cell kidney cancer which forms in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney.  If the cancer is found in the center of the kidney then it is known as transitional cell carcinoma.  Wilms tumor is kidney cancer very young children can get.

The average age of diagnosis is age 64 and it is rarely found in people younger than 45.  The lifetime risk of developing kidney cancer is 1 in 63 with men having a higher risk than women.

How do our kidneys function normally?

Our kidneys are located near the middle of the back below the rib cage and are 2 bean-shaped organs.  Around the clock the kidneys work to cleanse the blood and are the body’s main filter.  Each day they clean about 150 quarts of blood and remove about 1-2 quarts of water and waste from the blood in the form of urine.

This intricate filtering system controls many aspects keeping us healthy:

·      Fluid balance

·      Maintaining electrolyte levels – sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium

·      Waste removal in the form of urine

·      The regulation of blood pressure and red blood cell counts

Symptoms of kidney cancer

A tumor in the kidney may not always have signs or symptoms. If the cancer has spread (metastasized) outside of the kidneys, the symptoms may depend on the location.  If it has spread to the lungs a person may have shortness of breath or coughing up blood.  If it has spread to the bones, then bone pain or a fracture would be symptoms and cancer spreading to the brain would manifest itself with neurologic symptoms.

But, a tumor within the kidney may cause:

·      Blood in the urine

·      Pain in the side, abdomen or back that doesn’t go away

·      A lump in the abdomen

·      Loss of appetite and weight loss for no reason

·      Anemia and fatigue

Causes of kidney cancer

·      Smoking

·      Obesity

·      Chronic high blood pressure

·      Misusing certain pain medicine for a long time

·      Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome

·      Tuberous sclerosis

·      Family history of kidney cancer

Diagnosing kidney cancer

There is no blood or urine test to diagnosis kidney cancer.  The tests most often used for diagnosis include a physical exam, ultrasound, blood chemistry studies, urinalysis, liver function test, intravenous pyelogram, CAT scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and a biopsy.

Once it has been confirmed that it is kidney cancer, a person will be referred to a cancer specialist which may include a urologist, a radiation oncologist or a medical oncologist

Like with all cancers, once a diagnosis is made of kidney cancer, the cancer will be staged and graded.  The stage is a category used to rank how much the cancer has grown and or spread.  The grade is a way to rank how quickly the cancer is growing.  For kidney cancer, the “TNM” staging system and the Fuhrman grading system are used to determine the extent of cancer growth and the best course of treatment for it. 

Treating kidney cancer

Various factors will determine what options the doctor will choose – it depends often on the tumor grade and stage, the age of the person and their overall health and their anatomy.

There are many different courses of action a doctor may take to treat the cancer:

·      Active surveillance

·      Renal tumor ablation

·      Surgery to remove the tumor

·      Targeted therapy to kill cancer cells

·      Immunotherapy/biologic therapy

·      Chemotherapy

·      Radiation

·      A clinical trial to try a new treatment

As with any cancer, the earlier it is discovered, the greater the chance of survival.  By being aware of any changes from the norm and avoiding the risk factors that increase development of kidney cancer, are ways to either prevent it or at least catch it early and so it can be treated successfully.