Overview of Kidney Cancer
Kidney cancer is cancer that begins in the kidneys. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma. There are a variety of other types of kidney cancers that may occur. In children, the most common type of kidney cancer is a Wilms’ tumor. Kidney cancer is typically discovered during the early stages before the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
About the Kidneys
Your kidneys are about the size of your fist and are two bean-shaped organs. They are located behind the abdominal organs, with one kidney on each side of the spine.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
Kidney cancer rarely has signs or symptoms in the early stages. Sometimes the first notice of it is during a scan checking another body region for cancer. Some of the first signs of kidney cancer are blood in the urine, loss of appetite, pain in the back, tiredness, fever, or unexplained weight loss. You will want to consult with your physician if you have any of these symptoms that are concerning to you.
Causes of Kidney Cancer
There is no real clear cause of kidney cancer. Kidney cancer begins when there is a mutation in the Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA). The change causes the cells to grow and divide rapidly and when they form together, it causes a tumor.
Risk Factors of Kidney Cancer
The risk of kidney cancer is higher in people that are older. If you smoke, you are also at a higher risk for cancer. People who are obese or have hypertension have a higher risk as well. You are at high risk if you have previously been treated for kidney failure. Lastly, if you have certain inherited syndromes or a family history of kidney cancer, you will be at a high risk. Speak with your physician if you are aware of any of these factors.
Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
The first step is diagnosing kidney cancer is a blood and urine test. This test will tell your physician what is going on. An imaging test, such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan, will give your physician a complete look at the kidney tumor and any other abnormalities that may be occurring. In some cases, your physician may order a biopsy to be done. During a biopsy, your physician will remove a small sample from the kidney and this will be sent to the lab to look for signs of cancer.
Once the kidney cancer has been diagnosed, the physician will want to stage the cancer. A CT scan will be able to show your physician how far the cancer has progressed. This is done with numbers I through IV, with the lowest stage (I) being only found in the kidneys. In more advanced stages of kidney cancer, (such as stage IV), the cancer may have spread through other parts of the body.
Treatment of Kidney Cancer
The most common form of treatment for kidney cancer is surgery to remove the tumor. If the cancer is only found in the kidney, then this may be the only treatment that may be needed. If the cancer has spread, then additional forms of treatment may be necessary. You will want to consult with your physician to see what cancer treatment will be best for you. They will take a few things into account, such as your health, the stage of cancer, etc.
Surgery is typically the first form of treatment. The goal is to remove all of the cancer and preserve the kidney. A nephrectomy involves removing the entire kidney. A partial nephrectomy may also be done to remove just the affected part of the kidney.
Cryoablation is a treatment that is done by inserting a hollow needle through the skin by using visuals from an ultrasound. Cold gas is put through the needle to freeze the cancer cells.
On the other hand, radiofrequency ablation is a treatment for kidney cancer that is done by inserting a special probe through the skin and an electrical current is run through the needle to heat and burn the cancer cells.
If the cancer returns, then there are other options for treatment as well. Surgery may be recommended again to remove the affected area. Targeted therapy will focus on any abnormalities that are present. Immunotherapy is used to help your immune system fight the cancer. Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams to kill the cancer.
Prevention of Kidney Cancer
The first step to preventing kidney cancer is to stop smoking if you are currently a smoker. If you need help quitting, then ask your physician for help. Smoking is the leading cause of most cancers, so it is essential to quit.
If you are obese, then you should work on controlling your weight. Look at healthier meals and incorporate light exercise. If you need help with losing weight, then ask your physician for help with this as well. Your physician can recommend meals and an exercise routine.
Check your blood pressure to see if it is high. If your blood pressure is high, then ask your physician for recommendations on how to control this. When you incorporate healthier lifestyles, such as exercise and eating correctly, then this may help. In some cases, medications will be recommended.
Support with Kidney Cancer
The first step in being diagnosed with kidney cancer is to learn as much as possible about kidney cancer. This will give you enough knowledge to make informed decisions about the treatment plan you would prefer. It is also important to take care of yourself. Stop smoking and drinking, eat healthy, and exercise regularly. Having a support network is essential as well. Have a main support person who is comfortable attending your appointments with you. This person will be a good second set of ears to hear what happens at your appointment and you can talk through decisions with this person. If you need mental help outside of your support person, then reach out for help from a professional as well.