Kidney cancer or renal cancer is a malignant disease of the kidney cells. Renal cell carcinoma affects the tubules of the kidneys and is the most common form of kidney cancer in adults. Sometimes young children develop a form of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumour. Men are more predisposed to the condition than women, mainly occurring between the ages of 50 to 70.
Kidneys are part of the urinary system and are the bean shaped pair of organs located on either side of the spine in the back of the lower abdomen. The major function of the kidneys is to cleanse the blood of waste products and excrete them from the body in the form of urine.
The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown. There are certain factors that may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer and these include smoking, being male, prolonged dialysis treatment, family history of the disease, high blood pressure, polycystic kidney disease, obesity and Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome-a hereditary disease.
Occupational exposure to certain substances and chemicals may also raise the risk for kidney cancer.
The symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in the urine that may appear pink, red or rust coloured, constant back pain just below the ribs, presence of a lump felt in the side or the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, intermittent fever and swelling in the ankles and legs. Other symptoms such as excessive hair growth in females, pale skin and vision problems may also develop. If the kidney cancer spreads to other parts of the body it may present symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing up blood and bone pain. Fortunately, most cases of kidney cancer are detected before the cancer has spread to other areas.
In order to diagnose kidney cancer, the doctor will perform a physical examination to check the patient's general health and assess for any mass or swelling in the abdomen. Blood and urine tests are done and possibly an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) to investigate the presence of abnormalities in the kidneys.
Advance imaging systems such as MRI, CT scan or ultrasound of the abdomen and kidney may be done to visualize any tumours or abnormality. A biopsy may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Once diagnosis of kidney cancer is made, other tests including bone scan and chest X-ray may be ordered to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Surgery is the most recommended course of treatment for kidney cancer and may include complete or partial removal of the cancerous kidney with or without removal of the surrounding tissues and lymph nodes. Your surgeon will discuss the various options based on your particular situation. It is possible to survive with one functioning kidney. If both kidneys must be removed, the patient will require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
If surgical treatment is not possible, non-surgical treatments may be used to destroy the tumour such as cryotherapy to freeze the cancer cells, radiofrequency ablation to damage the cancer cells, or arterial embolization to block the blood supply to the tumour and shrink it.