The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs found in the middle of the back below the rib cage. Their function is to filter and clean blood. The renal artery brings blood into the kidneys to be cleaned, and the renal vein brings the cleaned blood back to the heart. Kidneys also contribute to keeping electrolytes and fluids balanced and help regulate blood pressure and red blood cell count.
What is Kidney Cancer?
Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the kidneys. Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. Almost any type of cell in the human body can become cancerous. Once cancer develops in one part of the body, it can spread to other areas.
There are several types of kidney cancer, with most cases being a variation of renal cell carcinoma. The types and variations of cancer of the kidney include:
- Renal cell carcinoma (RCC): The most common type of kidney cancer. About 9 out of 10 kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas. RCC usually grows as a single tumor within a kidney but sometimes there are two or more tumors or tumors on both kidneys at the same time.
- Clear cell renal cell carcinoma
- Papillary renal cell carcinoma
- Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma
- Unclassified renal cell carcinoma
- Other rare types:
- Collecting duct RCC
- Multilocular cystic RCC
- Medullary carcinoma
- Mucinous tubular and spindle cell carcinoma
- Neuroblastoma-associated RCC
- Other rare types:
- Transitional cell carcinoma
- Wilms tumor (neuroblastoma)
- Renal sarcoma
Like many cancers, cancer in the kidney is staged depending on the number and size of the tumors and whether it has spread.
- Stage I: the Tumor is in the kidney only and less than 7 cm in size
- Stage II: Tumors are only found in the kidney and larger than 7 cm in size
- Stage III: Tumors can be any size but are found in both the kidney and a nearby lymph node. OR cancer is found in the kidney’s main blood vessels or in the layer of tissue surrounding the kidney.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread beyond the kidney and tumors can be found in adrenal glands or lymph nodes near the kidney. Other organs not located near the kidney may also be affected, including the lungs, bones, liver, brain, and other lymph nodes.
There is some evidence that shows that kidney cancer can be linked to kidney disease, but not all people who have kidney disease get cancer. Conversely, not all people who have cancer have had kidney disease.
Early-stage kidney cancer is usually asymptomatic, meaning there are no noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses the following symptoms may be present:
- Blood in urine
- Persistent pain in the back or side
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- A fever that comes and goes
If cancer of the kidney is suspected, the doctor will perform tests to determine whether or not it is present. General health checks like blood and urine tests can be done, as well as a physical exam that includes palpating the abdominal area. Imaging tests may be ordered to visualize the kidneys and surrounding organs. These tests include:
- CT scans
Your doctor may also order a biopsy, where a small sample of kidney tissue is excised by needle and studied for cancer cells.
Surgery is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. The treatment plan will depend on the stage of cancer, the location of the tumor, and your general health. Radiation and chemotherapy are often used to treat many types of cancer but are not effective on the kidneys.
In stages I-III, cancer can be cured with a surgery called a nephrectomy:
- Partial Nephrectomy: Only the tumor or the part of the kidney with the tumor is removed.
- Radical Nephrectomy: The entire kidney is removed. Sometimes the lymph nodes and surrounding tissues are removed as well if they are affected. Most people can live a normal life with one healthy kidney.
Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Active surveillance: When the tumor is less than 4 cm in size, “watching and waiting” may be recommended before other treatments. This requires regular lab work and imaging studies to monitor the growth of the tumors. This is usually not a treatment recommended for younger, healthier patients, but may be an option for those who are in bad health or elderly.
- Thermal ablation: The tumor is killed by burning or freezing. Good for small tumors or those who are not candidates for surgery.
- Treatment with medications
- Targeted therapies
- Checkpoint inhibitors
- Anti-angiogenic therapies
Schedule an Appointment
At Alliance Urology Specialists in Greensboro, our goal is to provide the highest level of specialized care. Our board-certified physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of conditions, including kidney cancer. If you have concerns about your kidney health or any other urological issues, we can help.
To schedule an appointment, call (336) 274-1114.