Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, is a disease wherein the kidney cells start growing uncontrollably and become cancerous or malignant.
The incidence of kidney cancers is relatively higher in developed countries. It is less common in eastern countries, according to the reports. Kidney cancer is one of the cancers that can be easily treated. They also have excellent survival rates, and patients can lead a normal and healthy life after the treatment.
In the early stages of kidney cancer, signs and symptoms are not noticeable. The following are some of the most common signs of kidney cancer:
Kidney cancer that has metastasised to other organs might show the following symptoms:
Many of these symptoms listed above, however, can be caused by other disorders, and someone with kidney cancer may not have any signs or symptoms at all. It is important to not ignore any symptoms and immediately meet a doctor if any symptom lasts for more than two weeks.
Although the exact cause of kidney cancer is not known, a few risk factors have been identified, and these risk factors are found to increase one’s chances of developing kidney cancer:
There are multiple tests recommended by doctors for the detection and diagnosis of kidney cancers. Before any test, a thorough physical examination and medical history assessment are done in order to understand the cause of the signs of symptoms that a patient has presented oneself with. If kidney cancer is suspected, the doctor may recommend the following tests:
a. Blood Tests: Blood tests do not help with a definitive diagnosis, but they can hint at an underlying kidney problem that needs medical attention. Blood tests may also help in knowing if the disease has spread to nearby organs.
b. Urine Cytology/Urine Tests: Urine tests are also recommended to check for traces of blood, which are only visible under a microscope. Many patients with kidney cancers tend to have blood in their urine and this makes urine cytology a reliable testing method.
c. Imaging Tests: Imaging tests, such as MRI scan, PET/CT scan, etc., provide detailed structures of the kidneys, and if the tumour is present, these tests can provide comprehensive data, such as the size, shape, exact location, grade, etc.
These imaging tests are also used for disease staging, treatment planning, monitoring the treatment given and restaging the disease amidst the treatment.
d. Biopsy: Biopsy is the best way to receive a definitive diagnosis of all solid tumours, including kidney cancer. During this procedure, a small sample of tissue is collected and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancerous cells.
If bone metastasis is suspected, a bone scan may also be recommended.
The treatment suggested by the doctor depends on the stage of kidney cancer. It may also depend on other factors, such as the size of the tumour, exact location, underlying medical conditions, the patient’s age and overall condition of the patient. Following are the treatment options available for kidney cancer:
a. Active Surveillance: For patients who are too old to undergo aggressive treatment or have a smaller tumour or are diagnosed with other serious medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease or kidney disease, active surveillance may be recommended. During active surveillance, the doctor will closely monitor the tumour through regular tests and appointments.
b. Surgery: Surgery is the main line of treatment for kidney cancers. Kidney tumours can either be operated through open surgery or minimally invasive surgery. Minimally invasive procedures include robotic surgery and laparoscopic surgery; both these procedures use tiny incisions to insert the instruments and operate the tumour. Reduced blood loss, fewer treatment-related complications, lesser pain and faster recovery are some of the advantages of minimally-invasive procedures.
The different types of surgical methods used by the doctors are as below:
In cases where complete removal of the tumour is not possible, surgery may be performed to remove as much tumour as possible. Doctors may also recommend surgery for the tumours that have spread to other organs from the kidney.
c. Radiation Therapy: It is a non-invasive medical procedure that uses high-energy radiation beams, such as X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be combined with other treatment modalities, such as surgery and chemotherapy in order to enhance the overall effectiveness of the treatment.
In the case of advanced-stage kidney cancers, radiation therapy may be recommended to ease symptoms, such as pain, especially in cases where the disease has spread to bones.
d. Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is a novel treatment approach that strengthens the patient’s own immune system. When cancer cells create unique proteins that help them hide from immune system cells, the body’s disease-fighting abilities may be hampered. In such cases, immunotherapy may help the immune cells regain their ability to identify cancer cells and destroy them. Immunotherapy may be recommended along with other treatments as a part of the multimodal treatment plan.
e. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is not the main line of treatment for kidney cancers. However, in a small percentage of cases, chemotherapy is recommended for kidney cancer management. This treatment method uses strong medications that are able to destroy the cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered orally or intravenously.
In most cases, kidney cancers are treated with a multimodal approach; chemotherapy may be combined with other treatment modalities, such as surgery and radiation therapy for successful clinical outcomes and better survival rates.
f. Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that focuses on specific vulnerabilities or indicators found in cancer cells. Targeted therapy may be able to inhibit these vulnerabilities and hence kill cancer cells through a variety of mechanisms. Targeted therapy is a personalised treatment approach, and not all patients are eligible for this.
Kidney cancer can usually be treated successfully if it is found early. Today, new therapies and techniques have resulted in significantly higher overall survival rates for advanced-stage kidney cancers.
Yes, smoking is one of the risk factors for kidney cancers, and it may cause kidney cancer. Therefore, it is important to consider quitting tobacco.
When one of the kidneys is removed due to cancer, the other kidney starts to function for both. Most people who have one kidney can live a normal life without any major health problems. However, you should keep yourself healthy and be mindful about the activities that may cause harm to your other kidney.
The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, and therefore, there are no known ways to prevent kidney cancers completely. However, there are a few ways to reduce your risk of developing kidney cancers: