Kidney Cancer also sometimes referred to as renal cancer is a disease where the cells in your kidney start to grow out of control and form tumors. The most common form of renal cancer in adults is renal cell carcinoma where cancer first appears in tiny tubules in the kidney. Transitional cell carcinoma is cancer found at the center of the kidney. Abnormal growths are described as “tumor,” “mass,” or “legion.” If any of these found are benign then they are non-cancerous. If they are malignant then they are cancerous. Cysts can also be a common growth on kidneys and usually are not cancerous. Renal cancer affects males more than women and usually between the ages of 50-70. Renal cancer accounts for almost 3% of all types of cancers found in adults. More than 73,000 people will be diagnosed with renal cancer this year.
What Does Your Kidney Do?
You have two kidneys located on each side of your body just below the rib cage. They are called kidneys because they are shaped like kidney beans. Your kidneys act as a filtration system to remove waste and excrete extra fluid from your body. Each day your kidneys filter approximately 200 quarts of blood which then becomes 1 to 2 quarts of excreted urine. The kidney can ask for lower or higher blood pressure depending on the current needs of your body. Your kidneys are in charge of creating a hormone called erythropoietin. This hormone signals bone marrow to create more red blood cells which carry oxygen from your lungs to all other parts of your body. Kidneys also make an active form of Vitamin D which helps to absorb calcium and phosphorus that strengthen your bones. Another function of your kidneys is to control electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and acid). Kidneys also balance Ph in your body. They can either increase or lower the number of acids in your body. Aside from cancer, if the kidneys become too damaged to function properly, a person may need dialysis to assist with kidney functioning.
Doctors and unsure of exactly what may cause someone to get renal cancer. However, they feel certain risk factors appear to greatly increase one’s chances of getting this type of cancer. Some of these risk factors include:
• Being a male over 40
• Advanced kidney disease
• Family history of kidney cancer
• Long term use of certain pain medications
• Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome
• High blood pressure
• Tuberous Sclerosis
Even if you exhibit many of these factors it does not mean you will get renal cancer. On the contrary, you may not display any of the factors listed above and still be diagnosed with renal cancer. It varies by the individual and medical history.
In many cases, no early symptoms may show regarding a tumor in the kidney or early stages of cancer in the kidneys. Some early indications that you may notice are:
• Blood in your urine
• A lump in your side or abdomen
• A pain that does not go away in your lower back or side
• Weight loss without any other known cause
• Loss of appetite
• Extreme prolonged fatigue
• Sudden anemia
• Swelling in your lower legs or ankles
• Fever that is not present due to any other infection
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is best to be seen by a doctor. They can run necessary tests and determine if any tumors or cysts are present.
Many times, kidney cancer won’t be detected until a patient becomes aware of possible symptoms previously mentioned or a lump is found during a routine exam. If there are indications that cancer may be present, other tests will be performed to determine this.
One type of testing done in blood and urine. They make look for traces of blood and other substances in your urine. More than half all patients with renal cancer will have blood present in their urine. Interesting a patient’s blood, they will have different amounts of red blood cells. An indicator is too few or too many red blood cells. Imaging tests include x-rays, magnetic fields, soundwaves, or radioactive substances to create a picture to look at certain parts of the body where cancer may be present. Doctor’s can often diagnose with certainty based on these tests. A Post Emission Tomography (PET) Scan uses radioactive sugar introduced into the bloodstream. Cancer cells will absorb sugar much faster than normal cells. A special camera is used to see these areas of radioactivity. Intravenous pyelogram injects a special dye into a vein. An x-ray is then taken of the urinary system where abnormalities may show. Angiography again is a test using a contrast dye to outline the blood vessels in the renal artery. They can help identify blood vessels that are supplying a kidney tumor.
Aside from the tests mentioned here, some lesser used tests include, CT scans, MRI scan, Ultrasounds, and a biopsy can be used to extract a small piece of tissue from a tumor when others test did not provide clear enough results.
The next step after being diagnosed is to seek treatment right away. First, you need to know what stage and grade the cancer are at. The stage tells you how much the tumor or cancer has grown. The grade tells you how quickly it is growing. Once you know the stage and grade, you can proceed with the best form of treatment.
• Radical nephrectomy- removes the kidney and adrenal gland and surrounding tissue
• Cryotherapy- uses extreme cold to kill the tumor
• Renal Tumor Ablation- Freezes or heats the tumor to kill it
• Targeted Therapy- uses drugs to kill cancer cells with less toxicity to normal cells
• Chemotherapy- uses drugs to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing
• Arterial embolization- blocks blood flow to the tumor to shrink it
• Radiofrequency Ablation- Uses high energy radio waves to kill the tumor
• Surgery- to remove any tumors that are cancerous
If the cancer is caught early enough, the chances of beating the cancer are high. It is best to begin treatment immediately once you have been diagnosed.