Kidney cancer is the presence of malignant tumors in the kidney tissues. Cancer occurs when cells grow uncontrollably, clump together and form a tumor. A tumor is a growth that could be simple lesions, benign, pre-malignant or malignant. The malignant kidney tumors are cancerous.
Kidneys are located near the backbone – one other right and the other on the left. These large, bean-shaped organs are essential for various important functions like regulation of electrolytes and blood pressure, removal of waste products via the urinary bladder, filter for blood, to excrete urea, ammonium and to produce urine. Malignant kidney tumors are called renal cell cancer or transitional cell cancer. Renal cell cancer is the most common form of kidney cancer and causes 85% of all kidney tumors.
Kidney tumors : Who are at Risk ?
It is important to know the risk factors associated with contracting kidney tumors before studying kidney tumor symptoms.
- Smokers are twice as likely to contract kidney tumors than non-smokers
- Obesity associated with a high fat diet
- Rare genetic conditions like tuberous sclerosis that causes tumors to form on various major organs like kidneys, lungs, eyes, heart and brain
- Long term dialysis is a treatment for those whose kidneys do not function properly. One risk of dialysis is kidney cancer.
- Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome is a rare disease that affects certain families. Alterations in the VHL gene causes tumors to be formed in the kidneys, eyes etc.
- Occupational risks associated with working long hours with asbestos and cadmium also cause kidney tumors
- Gender – men are more likely to contract kidney tumors than women
Symptoms of Kidney Tumors
Kidney tumor symptoms could be a result of other health conditions. Hence, consulting a doctor is a wise option.
- Blood in urine (hematuria) is the first and most common kidney tumor symptom. The amount of blood is infinitesimal and is revealed only under a microscope. One sign is that the urine looks visibly red.
- Low back pain that is not caused by any injury
- Pain in the side: Patients will experience pain in the flanks that is the area between the hips and ribs. This pain does not reduce.
- Mass or lump can be felt in the stomach – although it is rarely detected by an external exam.
- Fatigue: The patient will feel extremely tired and lethargic. You will not be able to perform daily activities.
- Appetite: A person with kidney tumors may not feel the urge to eat.
- Weight loss: This could be due to loss of appetite and not because of dieting.
- Fever: This again is unexplained with no underlying causes like flu or cold. The fever could be around 100.4F or higher along with night sweats,
- Swelling of the ankles and legs called edema.
- High Blood Pressure that is not a common symptom
- Anemia is again prevalent but not a common symptom. Anemia is caused due to a drop in red blood cells.
- Polycythemia occurs when RBC count is abnormally high. This is a symptom of the presence of kidney tumor. Some symptoms of high RBC count are dizziness, headache, visual disturbance and fatigue.
- Testicles: The veins in the testicles (men) will swell when kidney tumors are present.
What to do?
A person who displays these symptoms (especially blood in the urine) should immediately to consult a doctor. Tests will be done and if the patient suffers from kidney tumors they will be referred to a specialist.
Treatment of Kidney Tumors
Diagnosis of kidney tumor symptoms is by magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography. These will reveal the type of tumor present. Solid kidney tumors are usually malignant while those filled with fluid – called cysts – are generally benign. Children are affected by a type of kidney tumor called Wilms’ tumor.
Treatment will be given based on the stages of kidney cancer:
- Stage I – the cancer is confined to the kidneys.
- Stage II – the cancer has spread to the fatty tissues of the kidney but not beyond.
- Stage III – the cancer has spread to the renal vein – the main blood vessel that services the kidneys.
- Stage IV – Nearby organs like pancreas, bowel or lungs are affected.
- Recurrent – the cancer has come back after treatment. It can return to the kidneys or an entirely new area of the body.
Depending on the stage of kidney tumors, the following treatment will be given:
- Cryosurgery is a minimal invasive procedure that freezes and kills cancer cells in the kidney.
- Surgery is the most common treatment option. It could be radical nephrectomy when the entire kidney, adrenal glands, tissues and lymph nodes are removed. Simple nephrectomy involves removing the kidneys alone. Partial nephrectomy is when the part that has the kidney tumor is removed.
- Radiation therapy uses X-rays (high energy) to kill cancer cells.
- Biological therapy makes use of the body’s immune system to kill the tumors.
- Chemotherapy uses drugs via injections or pills to kill the cancer cells.
- Arterial embolization is a special procedure when the renal vein is injected with tiny bits of a special gelatinous sponge to shrink the tumor.
- Hormone Therapy is used on patients in the advanced stage. Hormones are injected to stop the further growth of the cancer cells.
Kindney Tumors : Prevention and Precaution
The prognosis for kidney cancer is good if diagnosed early and the tumors are confined within the kidney. Surgical removal of the entire tumor is possible. Patients with later stages of kidney tumors can live for at least 5 years (70-94%). The outlook is bleak for those whose cancer has spread to other organs. The survival rate for 5 years comes down to 40-70% in such patients.
Since two of the causes of kidney tumors are hypertension and obesity, exercising is a good way to reduce the risk of contracting this and other deadly diseases. Exercises like brisk walking, hill climbing, cycling, running and swimming are all good. A healthy, high-fiber, low-fat diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Avoid fatty foods like butter, ghee, cream, cakes and cookies, sausages, foods cooked in palm or coconut oil. Those who are non-vegetarians can add fish like salmon, mackerel and herring to their diet.
Of course, the most effective way of reducing the risk of contracting kidney cancer is by quitting smoking and drinking moderate quantities of alcohol.
Follow-up care will be recommended by your doctor. This is important to reduce the risk of recurrence of kidney tumors. Find support groups who can help family members and patients cope with living with a deadly disease like kidney cancer.