Overview – What is it?
Kidney cancer, also referred to as renal cancer, is a type of cancer that begins in the kidney when malignant or cancerous cells grow rapidly and uncontrollably forming a tumour.
Kidney cancer can be caused by a number of factors such as smoking, obesity and family history. Some of the symptoms a person with kidney cancer can experience include loss of appetite, blood in the urine and fever.
Kidney cancer can be diagnosed through a urine or blood test, CT scan and ultrasound, among other tests.
Surgery, chemotherapy and target therapy are some of the treatment options for this cancer.
To prevent yourself from getting kidney cancer, you should not smoke, you should eat healthy, maintain a healthy weight and reduce other risk factors associated with this cancer.
Causes – What causes it?
The exact cause of kidney cancer is not known, however, here are some of the risk factors that increase the chance of developing this type of cancer:
- Age: Older people are more likely to develop kidney cancer.
- Smoking: People who smoke have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer as compared to non-smokers.
- Family history: If someone in your family has had renal cancer, it increases your risk of getting it as well.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases one’s risk of getting renal cancer.
- Hypertension: People with high blood pressure have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer even though it is not clear whether it is the hypertension itself or medications used in its treatment that increases the kidney cancer risk.
- Kidney failure treatment: People who have long-term dialysis for kidney failure also have a greater risk of developing renal cancer.
- Exposure to harmful substances: Some substances like herbicides and cadmium that people are exposed to, especially in the workplace, increase the risk of renal cancer.
- Inherited syndromes: Some syndromes like papillary renal cell carcinoma increase renal cancer risk.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Kidney cancer symptoms start to show when the disease has progressed. Some of the symptoms manifested include:
- Having a lump in the abdomen
- Presence of blood in the urine
- Loss of appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Pain in the side
- Swelling of the legs
When the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, one can experience:
- Shortness of breath
- Bone pain
- Coughing up blood
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Physical examination: This is done during a doctor’s consultation. The doctor examines your abdomen for any lumps and also checks your temperature and your blood pressure. The doctor also finds out your medical history and any other information that will help in the diagnosis.
- Urine test: This is used to check for any blood in the urine that could indicate kidney cancer.
- Blood test: This is used to assess how well the kidneys are working.
- Imaging tests: These are used to take images of the kidneys that help the doctor notice any abnormalities, using computerised tomography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or an ultrasound.
- Biopsy: This involves taking a sample of tissue from the kidney and looking at it under a microscope to check for any cancer cells.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of kidney cancer depends on a number of factors such as a person’s general health, the stage of the cancer and the size of the cancer. The treatment options for renal cancer are:
- Surgery: This is done to remove part of the tumour, the entire tumour or the entire organ. The types of surgeries for kidney cancer include:
- Partial nephrectomy: This is used to treat kidney cancer that is not wide-spread and is done by removing the tumour from the kidney thereby preserving the kidney and lowering the risk of chronic kidney disease.
- Radical nephrectomy: This surgery on the other hand, is used to remove the entire kidney, the surrounding tissues and the lymph nodes.
- Cryosurgery: This procedure involves freezing the cancer cells using a metal probe and it can be combined with laparoscopy to treat kidney cancer.
- Transplant surgery: This is used to treat kidney cancer that has spread to both kidneys by removing both of them and replacing them with healthy kidneys from a donor to a recipient.
- Chemotherapy: This uses a combination of anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy: This uses high-energy beams to destroy the cancer cells or prevent them from spreading further.
- Immunotherapy: This is the use of drugs to boost the body’s immune system and make it aware of the presence of cancer cells in the body thereby making it more able to fight the cancer cells.
- Target therapy: This is the use of drugs to target the specific cancer cells without causing damage to normal cells.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Kidney cancer prevention is based on reducing its risk factors by:
- Not smoking
- Maintaining a healthy diet; rich in fruits and vegetables and less processed foods
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not overusing certain medications, especially painkillers
- Avoiding being exposed to cadmium
- Keeping your blood pressure in check
- Getting treatment for chronic kidney disease
- Getting regular screening if you are at a high risk of getting kidney cancer.