Kidney Cancer: Understanding the Symptoms and Treatment Options
Your kidneys play an important role in the health and maintenance of your body, from waste removal to hormone production. Sadly, the kidneys are commonly susceptible to developing the abnormal cell growth seen in cancer cases. In fact, nearly 77,000 patients are diagnosed with kidney and renal pelvis cancers each year. Understanding the facts about this form of cancer can help catch potential symptoms early enough to increase your chances of successful treatment.
While no exact kidney cancer causes have been discovered, what scientists do know is that cancer forms in the renal cells of the kidney when the cell’s DNA is altered. This change causes the cells to replicate at a rapid rate for no reason resulting in masses called tumors. Left untreated, these cells can break off and travel to other areas and organs of the body where they continue to grow and multiply.
Kidney cancer stages are utilized to better diagnose the severity and progression of the disease. Stages increase the further the cancer spreads through the body, also known as metastasis. In stages I and II the tumor has not spread from the kidneys, with stage II presenting as a tumor 7 cm across or more. In stage III the tumor has started to spread to the surrounding tissues or nearby lymph nodes, but not to other distant nodes or organs. Stage IV is the most serious form of kidney cancer and involves spreading to the adrenal glands, distant lymph nodes or other organs.
While early stages may not produce noticeable kidney cancer symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following. Symptoms may include blood in the urine, unexplained weight loss, chronic back pain below the ribs, unexplained fevers, or chronic fatigue. It’s important to note that having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that you have cancer, but that it’s important to see a medical professional to get a firm diagnosis.
Kidney Cancer Treatment
Once diagnosed, cancer treatment can begin. The type of treatment depends largely on the stage and severity of the cancer. The majority of cancer cases involve kidney cancer surgery where either the affected kidney is completely removed, also known as radical nephrectomy, or just the tumor is removed, known as a nephron-sparing surgery. Both surgeries typically involve removing some of the surrounding tissues around the affected areas in case the cancer cells have started to spread. Other potential treatments include freezing (cryoablation) or heating (radiofrequency ablation) cancer cells to kill them, radiation treatments, or targeted or biological drug therapies. A combination of therapies may be used depending on your treatment plan.
Kidney cancer survival rates increase the earlier stage the disease is detected. As the cancer progresses towards stage IV, the metastatic spread of cancer cells throughout the body makes it difficult to eradicate. The five year survival rates for each stage are as follows.
- Stage I – 81%
- Stage II – 74%
- Stage III – 53%
- Stage IV – 8%