Kidney Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Types, Diagnosis and Treatment

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs lying in the lower abdomen. They get rid of the waste products from the body. Kidney cancer is a disease where the cells of the kidney becomes cancerous and grow out of proportion. It can also be referred to as renal cancer. The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, but there are numerous risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, excessive smoking, and drinking alcohol.

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Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

In the early stages of kidney cancer, there may be no symptoms. However, as the tumor grows, the following symptoms begin to appear:

As the cancer spreads to the other parts of the body, symptoms may include:

Causes of Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer mostly affects people above 40 years of age. The exact cause of the disease are unknown, there are certain risk factors such as:

  • High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure may be a culprit since it can activate uncontrolled cell growth in the kidneys.
  • Smoking: Smokers are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as non-smokers.
  • Obesity: Obesity causes the body to develop new cells continuously. As a result, the cell growth may become unrestrained leading to cancer.
  • Dialysis: Dialysis is for people whose kidneys do not function properly. However, a long-term dialysis is a risk factor for uncontrolled growth of a large number of cells in the kidneys thereby causing kidney cancer.
  • Occupation: Some people who come in close contact with different chemicals like steel, iron, asbestos, and cadmium are at risk.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop kidney cancer than women.
  • Von Hippel Lindau Syndrome (VHL): This is a rare genetic disease caused by changes in the VHL gene. This gene initiates the body to produce proteins that play a major role in the protein complex. The main function of this complex is to destroy other proteins that are not required by the cells. In VHL there are changes induced in the gene owing to mutation and henceforth, the protein degradation does not take place properly. This can be a risk factor for cancer, cysts or tumors.

Types of Kidney Cancer

The two most common types of kidney cancer are:

  • Renal Cell Carcinoma: This originates in the lining of convoluted tubule. It is that part of the kidney that transports waste particles from the blood to the urine. It is the most common type of cancer, and about 90-95% of patients suffering from kidney cancer are affected by this type of cancer.
  • Transitional Cell Carcinoma: It occurs in the urinary system affecting kidney, bladder and other accessory organs. Only 5-10% of the cases are malignant.

In addition to the above two, there are other types of kidney cancer that are lesser known such as:

  • Renal oncocytoma
  • Reninoma
  • Clear cell sarcoma of the kidney
  • Wilms’ tumor- commonly occurring among children under the age of 5
  • Bellini duct carcinoma
  • Angiomyolipoma

Some of the extremely rare and possibly cancerous tumor includes:

  • Carcinosarcoma
  • Renal Lymphoma
  • Inverted papilloma
  • Clear cell adenocarcinoma
  • Teratoma

Tests and Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer

The various tests used to diagnose kidney cancer include:

  • Blood and Urine Analysis

This is the first step towards diagnosing kidney cancer. The blood tests and urine tests give the doctor indications on the causal agent behind the various signs and symptoms.

  • Imaging

Once the blood tests establish the factor, imaging tests like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) are carried out. From these tests, the doctor will have a closer look at the kidney for tumors and other anomalies.

  • Biopsy

A biopsy is recommended to confirm the cancer and its extent. In this procedure, the doctor removes a small sample of the cells from a suspected area of the kidney and is tested in the lab for signs of cancer.

Treatments and Medications of Kidney Cancer

There are various treatment procedures available. However, the best approach depends on the extent to which the cancer may have spread.

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Surgery: This is the first step towards kidney cancer treatment. Various surgical procedures used are:

  • Nephrectomy: In this kidney, adjacent lymph nodes and a border of the healthy tissues are removed.
  • Nephron-Sparing Surgery: This involves removing only affected tumor and instead of the whole kidney. This is a common treatment method in case of smaller kidney cancers and if the patient has only one kidney.

Non-Surgical: When surgery is not an option, the treatment procedures may include:

  • Cryoablation: This is a procedure adopted to freeze the cancer cells.
  • Radio-Frequency Ablation: Radio-frequency heats the cells thereby burning them.

Precaution and Self Care

Kidney cancer can be prevented by adopting a healthier lifestyle such as controlling obesity, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling blood pressure. Also, avoid smoking and quit excessive intake of alcohol.

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