Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer
Renal cell cancer is a cancer or mass that grows in the meat of the kidney. It is more common than cancer of the renal pelvis, the part of the kidney that collects the urine. Affecting about 32,000 Americans each year, this cancer usually responds well to treatment when caught early.
The more common risk factors associated with renal cell cancer are:
- Age, sex and race
- High blood pressure
- Exposure to substances such as asbestos or certain inks and paints
- Family history
- Long term hemodialysis
- Certain genetic disorders such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease
Early renal cell cancer often has no symptoms and may be found by chance during a CT scan or ultrasound that is performed for other reasons. The symptoms of more advanced renal cell cancer are:
- Blood in your urine
- Mass or lump in your abdominal area
- High blood pressure – rare
- Pain in side, flank or lower back
- Swelling in your legs and ankles
- Late symptoms include anemia (low blood count), fatigue and weight loss
Following a thorough history and physical exam, your doctor may order additional imaging and lab tests, including:
- CT scan, MRI or Ultrasound
- Blood tests
- X-ray or bone scan – to determine if the cancer has spread
- Needle biopsy of the mass (although rarely done)
Your cancer will be assigned to one of four stages that describe how advanced and how aggressive the cancer is. Earlier stages have better prognosis.
- Stage I – the tumor is less than or equal to 7 centimeters and confined to the kidney
- Stage II – the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters but still confined to the kidney
- Stage III – the tumor has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues
- Stage IV – the tumor has spread more extensively (liver, lungs, bone and/or brain)
Treatment will depend on a number of factors, including your age and overall health, and the extent to which the cancer has spread. When appropriate, your urologist will collaborate with other specialists to provide one or more of the following:
- Surgery – the standard treatment for renal cell cancer
- Simple Nephrectomy – removing the whole kidney
- Radical Nephrectomy – total removal of the kidney, nearby adrenal gland and lymph nodes. This can be done laparoscopically or through an incision.
- Partial Nephrectomy – removal of only the cancerous part of the kidney. This procedure can be very effective in early stages.
- Radiation Therapy – using high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Usually used to reduce pain if cancer has spread to your bones.
- Chemotherapy – using medications to treat cancer cells that have spread throughout the body
- Cryosurgery – freezing cancer cells to destroy them (not offered here)
- Radiofrequency ablation – using heat to destroy cancer cells (not offered here)
- Since renal cell cancer may recur, close follow-up with your urologist is recommended.