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Urology

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Kidney Cancer

What is it?

Kidney cancer is a cancer that originates in the kidneys.  The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that assist in removing waste and excess water from the body through urine.  They also release hormones to stimulate the bone marrow to produce red blood cells, regulate blood pressure, and produce vitamin D to assist in maintaining calcium levels.  There are multiple types of kidney cancer with the most common being renal cell carcinoma.  Renal cell carcinoma begins in the small transport tubes of the kidney and develops into a small tumor.  It can metastasis and spread to other areas of the body.  Other types of kidney cancer are renal sarcoma, cell carcinoma, and Wilms’ tumor.

Symptoms

Kidney cancer is very hard to detect in the early stages as there may not be noticeable symptoms.  As the kidney tumor grows patients may experience the following symptoms:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Recurrent fevers
  • Back pain

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Causes
Kidney cancer does not have a clear cause but doctors see a correlation to a genetic mutation in the kidneys which cause the cells to multiply at a quicker rate.

Factors that can increase the risk of kidney cancer are:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney failure treatment
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Family history - Hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma

Tests

Doctors will perform a combination of queries to determine the patient’s condition.  These could include:

  • Medical History
  • Physical examination
  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Ultrasound
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
  • Arteriography

Treatment

Once the diagnosis has been completed a treatment will be selected depending on the severity of the cancer. 

Surgical Treatments

Various surgical procedures are possible including:

Nephrectomy – This type of surgery will remove the entire kidney and some of the surrounding tissue depending on the severity.  This can be done laparoscopic with multiple tiny incisions or openly with one large incision to remove the kidney.

Nephron-sparing surgery – This type of surgery, also called a partial nephrectomy, only removes the tumor out of the kidney instead of removing the entire kidney.  In some cases this type of surgery can be done using robotic laparoscopic surgery.  Robotic surgery allows the surgeon more precise movements than is possible by hand.   

Therapy Treatments

Radiation Therapy utilizes high power energy beams precisely directed at the affected cancer cells to kill them from outside the body.  This type of therapy is also used to reduce symptoms of kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Immunotherapy utilizes drugs that strengthen your immune system to fight kidney cancer.  Examples of these types of drugs are aldesleukin (Proleukin) and interferon.

There are also other types of drugs that target specific aspects of the cancer cells.

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment options.