What is Kidney Cancer?
Kidney cancer happens when abnormal cells grow together in the kidney to form masses called tumors. Kidney cancer typically begins in the lining of the kidney and can eventually affect how the kidney is able to clean the blood and make urine. The most frequently occurring type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of kidney cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Kidney cancer symptoms can include:
- Blood in the urine
- A lump on the side or lower back
- Low back pain that doesn’t go away
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fever that isn’t caused by an infection and which can sometimes last for weeks
- Extreme fatigue
- Swelling in the ankles or legs
To diagnose kidney cancer, we ask questions about medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Blood test: Blood tests to check kidney and other organ function.
Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): In this test, a contrast material is injected to show the details of the kidney, ureters and bladder on an X-ray.
Urine test: A urinalysis can analyze urine for any abnormalities. A urine cytology test looks for abnormal, or cancerous, cells in a urine sample.
Imaging tests: Imaging tests like ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be done to see the kidney and look for tumors.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of detailed pictures of the organs and vessels around the kidneys, taken from different angles, are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine. A CT scan can be used to guide a biopsy procedure.
- Ultrasound (US): An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the kidney and other organs. Ultrasound can be used to guide a biopsy procedure.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This scan uses a large magnet, radio waves and a computer to produce pictures of the kidneys.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This scan uses a radioactive sugar that may be absorbed by cancer cells which can show up on the scan.
There are a number of lifestyle factors that can cause cancer, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Smoking increases the risk of renal cell carcinoma and those who smoke more and longer have an even higher risk
- Long term use of pain medications
- High blood pressure increases the risk of kidney cancer, although it is not known if it is the condition or the use of medications to control blood pressure that increases the risk
Risk factors that can contribute to kidney cancer include:
Age: Most kidney cancer is diagnosed in people between the ages of 50 and 70.
Gender: Men develop kidney cancer more frequently than women.
Advanced kidney disease: People with advanced kidney disease or those on long-term dialysis develop kidney cancer more frequently than those who do not have kidney disease.
Genetic conditions: Some inherited syndromes like von Hippel-Lindau disease make it more likely to develop some cancer such as kidney cancer.
Family history: The risk of kidney cancer is especially high for those with siblings with the condition.
Exposure to certain chemicals: Exposure to asbestos, cadmium, benzene, organic solvents or certain herbicides can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.
Race: The risk for kidney cancer is slightly higher for African-Americans, American Indians and Alaska natives.
Having lymphoma: There is an increased risk of kidney cancer for those with lymphoma.
While some risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent kidney cancer:
Don’t smoke: Smoking is a known cause of most cancers.
Eat a low-fat diet: Eat a healthy low-fat diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, and exercise daily.
Take medications as prescribed: If you have high blood pressure, be sure to take your prescribed medications as directed.
Wear protective clothing when working with chemicals and avoid long-term exposure.
The earlier that cancer of the kidney is diagnosed, the better the outcome.
Treatment and Recovery
Kidney cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed. Sometimes, multiple types of treatments are necessary, including:
Surgery is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. Surgery can be done to remove the tumor in the kidney, remove the entire kidney, or remove the entire kidney and the adrenal gland. When one or part of a kidney are removed, the second kidney can usually provide enough function to support the body.
Cryoablation or cryotherapy: In this procedure, a hollow tube is inserted through the skin or through a surgical incision into the kidney where the tumor is. Cold gas is passed through the tube to freeze and kill cancer cells.
Radiofrequency ablation: In this procedure, a special probe is inserted through the skin into the kidney where the tumor is. High energy radio waves are passed through the probe to heat and kill the cancer cells.
Recovery After Surgery
Recovery after a surgical procedure will depend upon the type of procedure and your overall health. Your doctor will tell you when you may be physically active again and about what activities to avoid during recuperation.
This therapy helps boost the immune system’s natural defenses to fight the cancer or to target signals in cancer cells and prohibit them from growing, spreading and surviving.
High-energy radiation is directed to the kidney to kill cancer cells. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.
Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered directly to the area of the kidney with cancer, or it can be given as a pill or injected into the bloodstream.
Kidney cancer can recur, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important. In addition, kidney cancer can affect other functions of the body and can result in:
- High blood pressure
- Too much calcium in the blood
- High red cell counts
- Liver problems