What is kidney cancer?Kidney cancer (or renal cancer) is a rare type of cancer which accounts for just under 2% of cancers worldwide. It starts in the cells of the kidneys and can potentially spread to organs such as the lungs, bones, liver and brain. The two most common types of kidney cancer are called renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). The names of these diseases reflect the type of cells that cancer starts in. Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for around 90% of cases. RCC and TCC develop differently, meaning that they need to be approached and treated in different ways. The number of diagnoses for kidney cancer has increased. This is due to improved imaging technologies, which are used more often. These imaging technologies allow for an early diagnosis, which significantly improves the disease’s survival rate.
Causes and risk factors for kidney cancer:Kidney cancer is caused by irregular cell growth in the kidneys. Nobody knows what causes thiese irregular cell growths, but there are several risk factors that increase the chances of kidney cancer occurring. These include:
- Smoking – Tobacco smokers are at an increased risk of kidney cancer. Fortunately, the risk decreases upon quitting.
- Age – The risk of kidney cancer increases as you age.
- Obesity – People who are obese or overweight have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer.
- High blood pressure – High blood pressure increases the risk of kidney cancer. Treating your blood pressure issues will reduce the risk.
- Genetics – Kidney cancer is more common in people who’s immediate family suffer from von Hippel-Lindau disease, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, tuberous sclerosis complex, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma or familial renal cancer.
- Previous kidney issues – If you have suffered from kidney issues such as kidney stones or received treatment for kidney failure, you are at a higher risk of contracting kidney cancer.
Symptoms of kidney cancer:There are several common symptoms associated with kidney/renal cancer which you can read below. If you are noticing any of these symptoms, it is always best to see a doctor. An early diagnosis will allow doctors to treat the disease more effectively, with a reduced likelihood of the cancer spreading to other locations in your body. Common symptoms of kidney cancer include:
- Blood in urine – You may notice small amounts of blood in your urine. Your urine may appear red, brown or pink coloured.
- Pain in your back or side – You may notice a consistent pain in your back, side or lower abdomen. This pain will not go away over time.
- Lack of appetite and loss of weight – You may find that you are not eating as much as you normally would. This is a common symptom of kidney cancer and can result in irregular weight loss.
- Tiredness – Sufferers of kidney cancer may feel fatigued and spend more time sleeping.
- Fever – Kidney cancer can cause an increased body temperature, which is often accompanied by heavy sweating.
Diagnosis and treatment for kidney cancer:Kidney cancer is diagnosed using either:
- Blood and urine tests – The doctor will examine a sample of your blood and urine for any irregularities. This will give the doctor a better idea about what is causing your symptoms.
- Imaging – Imaging tests such as ultrasounds allow doctors to look for a tumour or abnormality in the kidneys.
- Biopsy – A biopsy is when a small sample is removed to test for irregularities, such as kidney cancer. Unlike other cancers, a biopsy is usually not usually necessary as imaging provides a conclusive amount of evidence. Biopsies are reserved for cases where imaging tests are inconclusive and do not provide a clear result.
Surgery:Surgery is the removal of kidney cancer via an operation. It is considered the most effective method for treating kidney cancer. There are two main surgical methods that are used for kidney cancer:
- Removal of part of the kidney (partial nephrectomy) – A partial nephrectomy is when surgeons remove the tumour from the kidney as well as some surrounding tissue. In most cases, this allows surgeons to preserve the function of the kidney. Partial nephrectomies are most commonly done for smaller tumors that havenot spread throughout the kidney.
- Removal of the affected kidney (nephrectomy) – A nephrectomy is when surgeons remove the entire kidney. The surgeons may also remove some surrounding tissue to prevent the cancer from reoccurring. Although a nephrectomy is very effective, it means that you will only have one remaining kidney, which can increase the risk of long-term issues. For this reason, a partial nephrectomy is usually preferred unless the cancer has spread throughout the entire kidney.
Radiation therapyRadiation therapy is the use of radiation to target and destroy cancer cells. With kidney cancer, radiation therpay is often used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with surgery. The most common form of radiation therapy is external-beam therapy, where a machine is used to target the tumour with radiation. Radiation therapy comes with side affects, which include:
- Irritation and red skin, similar to sunburn
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Fatigue and tiredness