Kidney cancer, or renal cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys, two bean-shaped organs located behind the abdominal organs with one located on each side of the spine. Nearly 63,000 new cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed in this country each year, with the average age of diagnosis at 64 years old. In adults, Renal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for nearly 90% of all cases. Young children are more likely to develop a type of kidney cancer called Wilms’ Tumor.
Kidney cancer rarely causes signs or symptoms in its early stages, and unfortunately there no routine screenings available for prevention. Later stages may produce signs and symptoms such as blood in the urine, persistent side or back pain, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.
It’s not clear why kidney cancer forms, but there are some risk factors, including an increase in age, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, previous treatment for kidney failure and certain inherited syndromes. To clearly identify kidney cancer, blood and urine tests, imaging tests (MRI and CT), ultrasounds and biopsies may be used.
Once the cancer is identified, it is then divided into one of four stages depending on its size and if it has spread to other areas of the body.
Stage I means the tumor is up to 7 centimeters and it is confined to the kidney.
Stage II means the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters, but it is still confined to the kidney.
Stage III means the tumor can be any size, but it has grown beyond the kidney to surrounding tissue or spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IV means the tumor has spread outside the kidney to nearby lymph nodes or to the lungs, liver, bones or other tissues.
Treatment for kidney cancer includes:
Surgery: to removing all or part of the kidneys
Radiofrequency Ablation: heating of cancer cells
Cryoablation: freezing of cancer cells
Immunotherapy: drugs that enlist the body’s own immune system to fight against the cancer
Targeted Drug Therapy: drugs that target specific cell malfunctions
Radiation Therapy: use of high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells
Clinical trials have also played a significant role in the expansion of available treatments for kidney cancers.