Kidneys are part of the urinary system and play an important role in the overall function of the body. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs which lie under the lower ribs, one on each side of the spine. The key functions of the kidneys include removal of waste and impurities from the blood, balance the body’s fluid level, and produce urine. Kidney cancer refers to the irregular growth of cells inside the kidney which forms into a malignant (cancerous) mass. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma. This occurs when cancer cells develop in the lining of the tiny tubules (known as nephrons) inside the tissue of the kidney.
Kidney Cancer Risk Factors
There is no absolute known cause for kidney cancer. However, there are various types of risk factors that may increase the chances of developing kidney cancer. Kidney cancer develops more often in men and in individuals aged 50 years and above. With today’s advanced and ongoing research, studies have found common risk factors that may increase the chances of developing kidney cancer.
These risks include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Certain inherited genetic conditions
- Family history
- Exposure to certain chemicals such as benzene, cadmium, and solvents such as trichloroethylene
- Radiation therapy for certain conditions/cervical cancer
Unfortunately, there may be no clear signs or symptoms of a cancerous tumor in the kidney until it has grown and spread to other organs. In many cases, kidney cancer is detected using procedures such as an x-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan. It’s important to notify your doctor if you notice any changes in your body’s normal routine; early detection will allow for better treatment options.
Some symptoms may include:
- A loss of appetite or weight for no apparent reason
- Blood in the urine
- Lump in abdomen
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
Other health conditions may have similar signs and symptoms as kidney cancer; therefore it is important to try not to come to drastic conclusions before an actual diagnosis is made. A physician may perform a physical examination, order tests, and inquire about family health history before referring the patient to a specialist. There are many tests for diagnosing the kidney cancer. These include:
- Blood tests
- Urine examination
- CT scan
- X-ray (intravenous pyelogram)
The first step in developing a treatment plan is determining the grade and stage of kidney cancer. A healthcare professional will examine the appearance and behavior of cells, the size, how much the tumor has spread (one or both kidneys), type of cancer, and the overall health before coming up with a treatment plan. Possible treatment options include surgery, targeted therapy, arterial embolization, ablation therapy, radiation, and immunotherapy.
Here’s a closer look at some of these options.
Surgery is the most common treatment option for kidney cancer. The type of surgery depends on how advanced the cancer is. Radical (kidney and surrounding lymph nodes and adrenal gland are removed), simple (only the kidney is removed), or partial (only part of the kidney is removed) nephrectomy are all possible options and will depend on the size of the tumor.
This type of therapy uses drugs to target certain molecules of the cancerous cells to stop them from growing and spreading. Factors such as the type of cancer a patient has, level of risk, and previous treatments are considered before deciding which type of targeted therapy should be used. Targeted therapy is usually given to patients when cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body (even after surgery) or come back after treatment.
External beam radiation therapy is referred to the process when high levels of radiation are aimed at the cancer from outside the body to shrink and kill cancer cells. Radiation is not usually used to treat the cancerous mass inside the kidney but may be beneficial to other parts of the body where cancer cells have spread. Radiation therapy may also be given to ease pain or slow down symptoms of advanced kidney cancer.
Although there is no way to fully prevent kidney cancer, there are measures one can take that may lower the risk of developing kidney cancer. They include: a healthy diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, controlling high blood pressure, and avoiding harmful substance exposure at the workplace.
We don’t claim to be medical experts and do not recommend you to opt for this before consulting your doctor. This is not an orthodox to any medical expert’s advice.