In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about Kidney Cancer.
Kidney cancer is a malignant tumor that originates in one or both kidneys. The kidneys have the size of your fist. The most common type of kidney cancer in adults is renal cell carcinoma that starts in the renal tubules. Their function is to clear the blood and make urine. Urine consists of all the compounds our body doesn’t need. We eliminate urine upon urinating. Renal cell carcinoma can be local or spread to other parts of the body. It most commonly metastasizes in the bones, lungs, or brain. Wilms’ tumor is another type of kidney cancer that is more frequent among children. The incidence of kidney cancer is increasing. In this article, we will discuss essential information regarding risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of kidney cancer.
Types of kidney cancer
There are several types of kidney cancer. The following are some of the most well-known ones:
- Renal cell carcinoma. It is the most common type of kidney cancer.
- Urothelial carcinoma. It accounts for 5% to 10% of all types of kidney cancer.
- Sarcoma. It is a rare type of cancer that is easy to spread or reoccur.
- Wilms tumor. It is prevalent in children and accounts for 1% of all types of kidney cancer.
- Lymphoma. Kidney lymphoma leads to lymphadenopathy and enlargement of both kidneys
Except for the particular cancer type, it is essential to know which cell is responsible for each case. For example, clear cell carcinoma is particularly responsive to immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
How common is kidney cancer?
An estimated 73,820 people presented with kidney cancer in the US in 2019, and about 14,770 individuals are going to die from it. The five-year survival rate of kidney cancer is 75%. However, the number is not constant but may deviate depending on the type of cancer, its stage at diagnosis, and cell type. For example, people with kidney cancer and distant metastasis have a significantly lower five-year survival rate than those with a local tumor. Also, men are more likely to develop the disease than women.
Risk factors for kidney cancer
Risk factors increase a person’s chance to develop a particular disease. The following are some of the most well-known risk factors associated with kidney cancer:
- Tobacco smoking
- Male sex
- Older age
- Medication overuse, such as aspirin, diuretics, ibuprofen, or painkillers containing phenacetin
- Cadmium exposure
- Chronic kidney disease
- Long-term dialysis
- Family history of kidney cancer
Symptoms and signs of kidney cancer
In its early stages, kidney cancer is usually asymptomatic, making the diagnosis quite challenging. No specific test can diagnose early and asymptomatic kidney cancer. Most of the time, the disease presents with the following symptoms and signs, indicating a more advanced stage:
- Hematuria or blood in the urine
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent pain in the back or lateral abdomen
- Fatigue and loss of appetite
- Intermittent fever
Occasionally, symptoms and signs similar to the above might be the result of another illness. For example, you can have hematuria during a urinary tract infection or other types of cancer, such as the one of the bladder. Doctors examine your symptoms and get the first hints, which they later confirm with the help of some investigations. Symptoms and signs alone cannot establish an accurate diagnosis.
Is it hard to diagnose kidney cancer?
It is hard but not impossible to diagnose an early-stage kidney tumor. However, most cases receive a diagnosis in later stages. History and a physical exam are the first essential steps that will make the doctor search more using more specific investigations. A blood count and urine analysis are necessary tests that every patient undergoes. Also, some imaging tests, such as ultrasound, MRI-scan, or CT-scan, might be necessary to visualize the tumor and stage it. Finally, in some cases, a biopsy might be inevitable to help the doctor visualize the cancerous tissue and find out about the cancerous cell responsible.
Treatment options for kidney cancer
The treatment of kidney cancer needs a multidisciplinary team that works together for the best of the patient. It includes a urologist, a urologic oncologist, a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist if radiation therapy is necessary. A therapeutic approach, suggested for older adults, with serious comorbidities and a small neoplasm is active surveillance. It consists of closely monitoring the tumor by performing regular screenings. Surgery is the removal of the cancerous tissue, together with some of the surrounding healthy ones. It consists of many types, some of which are radical nephrectomy, partial nephrectomy, and laparoscopic surgery. Non-surgical methods include radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation. Finally, the following are systemic therapies using medication:
- Targeted therapy
The patient receives such a drug orally or intravenously, meaning through a needle that goes into a vein. Choosing the most appropriate treatment includes the overall well-being of the patient and the stage of the disease. Except for standard treatments, patients might need psycho-social support to integrate themselves back to the community. Keep in mind that cancer does not affect only the patients, but also their spouse or children. Therefore, cancer also has psychological and social consequences for which the patient must prepare and receive the appropriate support. Those that undergo palliative treatments in late-stage kidney cancer might also need proper care and medical or psychological attention. Last but not least, all types of treatment may present with side effects. Talk to your doctor and discuss treatment alternatives and their potential side effects.