The kidneys are essential organs of our body that is responsible for the task of excretion of waste materials. There are 2 kidneys which are bean shaped measuring approximately the size of your fist. The primary job of the kidney is to remove the impurities from the blood through filtering and expelling the waste products. Kidneys are located just below the spinal cord in the lower abdomen. There is an adrenal gland at the top of kidney which is covered by fatty mass of tissue.
The kidneys are also responsible in maintaining the blood pressure of your body and they produce fresh red blood cells. Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. Some children can also develop Wilms tumor in kidneys. At present the rate of kidney cancer is steadily increasing. This can be due to usage of CT/MRI scan frequently for analyzing other diseases.
When abnormal cells grow in uncontrolled manner in the kidneys, it causes cancer. Obesity and having hypertension are the primary risk factors of getting kidney cancer. Bloody discharge in the urine and intense pain on the sides and loss of weight are some of the signs of kidney cancer. Common methods of treatment are chemo and radiation therapy and surgery.
In most of the cases kidney cancer will not show any symptoms in the initial stages or until the disease has advanced considerably. It may cause back pain, sudden pain below the ribs, blood discharge in the urine, loss of weight (without trying) and extreme tiredness in the later stages of cancer. Some people may get mild fever regularly which does not get resolved with medications.
Exact cause of kidney cancer is not known. It develops due to abnormal cell division or gene mutations in the DNA of the kidney cells. It is still not clear why certain people (without any risk factors) develop kidney cancer and why others (with too many risk factors) are not developing it.
Risk Factors :
People who are over-weight, people who smoke regularly, people with high blood pressure and people with other types of kidney problems are prone to develop kidney cancer. Often people who are above 45 years who are obese are likely to get this cancer. Individual who undergoes dialysis regularly have increased risk of getting kidney cancer. A person with VHL syndrome or working in hazardous environment or frequently exposed to asbestos or cadmium dust is likely to develop kidney cancer. Men are prone to develop kidney cancer more than women.
Your doctor will check the results of urine/blood tests and request for imaging tests like CT or MRI scan to find if there is any abnormal growth in the kidneys. If he suspects cancer he would do a biopsy test for getting a clear result.
- In the first stage, the kidney cancer will be a small tumor measuring about 5-7 cm in diameter.
- In the next stage, the tumor would grow big in size affecting the functions of kidney.
- In the third stage, the cancer will start spreading to the nearby tissues and lymph nodes also.
- In the final stage, the cancer causing cells have moved far beyond affecting vital organs like lungs or liver.
Your doctor will do repeated testing to confirm the staging of the cancer and to decide the treatment method. The age, health condition, extent and intensity of cancer are considered before selecting any treatment.
In many cases of kidney cancer, surgery is the first line treatment. The surgeon would remove either the tumor alone from the kidneys (sparing the kidney) or do nephrectomy (removing tissues and lymph nodes along with kidney) depending on the case of the individual. The surgery can be done by making one big incision on the kidney side or it can also be done laparoscopic method. The surgeon would always try his best level to retain most of the kidney tissues.
For some patients, surgery may not be possible due to other reasons. In that case, the tumor is made to shrink or freeze using a special needle. This process is done usually for treating small sized tumors in the kidney. In some cases radiofrequency ablation is used for heating the cancer causing cells through electric current thus burning them completely. For advanced stages of kidney cancer, the surgeon would remove the kidneys as well as other lymph nodes where the cancer has spread.
Biological Therapy :
In this method the body’s immune system is triggered using medications to fight and destroy cancerous cells. Interferon and proleukin are commonly used medications in biological therapy. Targeted therapy is used for blocking the signals received from cancer causing cells thus freezing their growth. Some of the common drugs used are Inlyta, Avastin and Nexavar.
This method uses sending high powered beams of X-rays for killing cancerous cells.
Side Effects of Treatment :
After surgery, it can take enough time for healing. For some patients surgery can cause internal bleeding, infection and intense pain. A team of experts will have to monitor the health of the patient regularly after surgery to avoid any complications. In arterial embolization therapy, the patient may develop consistent fever and back pain. In radiation approach, it can cause tiredness along with nausea and vomiting. In some cases radiation can destroy health WBC leading to frequent infection. You have to discuss with your doctor to manage these adverse effects.
Biological therapy can cause fever, chills, skin rash and loss of appetite. In most of the cases, these side effects will gradually reduce after few months. Having nutritious diet is vital after any therapy of kidney cancer. The patients may not have enough appetite but it is essential for them to maintain weight and energy after cancer. Stay connected with family and friends, gather a support team and eat and sleep well to stay healthy.
Nothing can be done to prevent kidney cancer. You can always reduce the risk factors by quitting smoking, drinking and by maintaining your weight and hypertension. Practice regular exercises and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.