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Kidney cancer attacks over 30 thousand people and kills over 12,000 each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). (Read about "Cancer: What It Is")
The kidneys are a pair of hardworking organs that are part of the urinary system. (Read about "The Urinary System") They clear the waste products out of our blood stream. Located just below the rib cage near the middle of your back, they filter about 200 quarts of blood a day to extract about 2 quarts of waste and extra water. It becomes urine and is stored in your bladder until you go to the bathroom. This whole thing takes place in what are called nephrons, where the blood carrying capillaries intertwine with the urine carrying tubules.
The kidneys also release hormones and regulate a number of chemicals in our blood stream such as:
The kidneys are crucial to our survival, but we don't need both of them. There are people who are born with one kidney (or who donate one to another person) who live normal and active lives. In the case of kidney cancer, if one kidney has to be removed, the remaining kidney generally is able to perform the work of both kidneys. However, if the remaining kidney is not working well (Read about "End Stage Renal Disease") or if both kidneys are removed, dialysis is needed to clean the blood.
Several types of cancer can start in the kidney. Three types of kidney cancer are considered the most common:
According to ACS, adults may develop Wilms' tumors or children may develop renal cell carcinoma, but these cases are very rare. Other types of kidney cancer that are considered rare include clear cell sarcoma of kidney (CCSK) and rhabdoid tumor. Another type of cancer, transitional cell carcinoma, affects the renal pelvis. It is similar to bladder cancer and is often treated like bladder cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
ACS says there is no blood or urine test that can screen for kidney cancer. (Read about "Cancer Check-ups") As a result, kidney cancer can be quite advanced before it is discovered. Blood in the urine is often a symptom of kidney cancer in adults, but can also be the sign of other kidney disease. (Read about "Kidney Disease") One thing is certain, blood in the urine of an adult or a child is a sign of the need for a visit to the doctor to find out the exact reason.
When there are symptoms of RCC, according to NCI and ACS, they can include:
TCC may have no symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms may appear only when the tumor grows. You should see your doctor if you develop the following symptoms.
Wilms' tumors often produce no symptoms, until there is a noticeable swelling in the abdomen. When there are symptoms of Wilms' tumor, they can include:
Again, these symptoms can indicate a number of problems, but if you notice these symptoms, see a doctor right away.
The risk factors for RCC are many. Some of them are genetic and uncontrollable but others are lifestyle or other environmental issues that can be avoided. NCI and ACS list the following:
NCI lists things we can change as the major risk factors for TCC. They include:
The risk factors for Wilms' tumor are less clear. Family history may play a role. (Read about "Family Health History") In addition, there is a strong link between Wilms' tumors and certain kinds of birth defects, according to ACS. About 10 percent of patients with Wilms' tumor also have birth defects. (Read about "Birth Defects")
Different tests can be used to check for kidney cancer.
A doctor needs to know the stage of the disease to plan treatment. The following stages are used for RCC and TCC, according to NCI:
Cancer is found only in the kidney.
The tumor is larger but is still confined to the kidney.
Cancer has spread to the main blood vessel that carries clean blood from the kidney (renal vein), to the blood vessel that carries blood from the lower part of the body to the heart (inferior vena cava), or to lymph nodes around the kidney. (Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body; they produce and store infection-fighting cells.) (Read about "The Lymph System")
Cancer has spread to nearby organs such as the bowel or pancreas or has spread to other places in the body such as the lungs.
Stage 0 (Papillary Carcinoma and Carcinoma in Situ)
Abnormal cells are found in tissue lining the inside of the renal pelvis or ureter. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is divided into stage 0a and stage 0is, depending on the type of tumor:
Cancer has formed and spread through the lining of the renal pelvis and/or ureter, into the layer of connective tissue.
Cancer has spread through the layer of connective tissue to the muscle layer of the renal pelvis and/or ureter.
Cancer has spread to the layer of fat outside the renal pelvis and/or ureter; or into the wall of the kidney.
Cancer has spread to at least one of the following:
TCC can also be described as localized, regional, or metastatic. Localized is when cancer is found only in the kidney. Regional is when the cancer has spread to tissues around the kidney and to nearby lymph nodes and blood vessels in the pelvis. And metastatic is when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer is found only in the kidney and can be completely removed by surgery.
Cancer has spread beyond the kidney, to fat or soft tissue or blood vessels. The cancer can be completely removed by surgery.
Cancer has spread within the abdomen and cannot be completely removed by surgery. The cancer may have spread to the lymph nodes (small bean-shaped structures found throughout the body that produce and store infection-fighting cells) near the kidney, blood vessels or the peritoneum (tissue that lines the abdomen and covers most organs in the abdomen). (Read about "The Lymph System")
Cancer cells are found in both kidneys when the disease is first diagnosed.
ACS calls surgery the main treatment for kidney cancer. An operation to remove the kidney is called a nephrectomy. Usually the entire kidney, along with the adrenal gland and some fatty tissue, is removed. Partial removal of the kidney is done in some instances. Nephron-sparing surgery, in which the tumor is removed but not the kidney, may be an option in some cases. The surgery may be done conventionally or robotically. (Read about "Robotic Surgery")
Radiation can also be used (Read about "Radiation Therapy"), sometimes as the main therapy and sometimes to shrink the tumor prior to surgery. Biological therapy is also an option. Biological therapy uses the body's natural ability to fight cancer. (Read about "The Immune System") Chemotherapy isn't very successful against RCC, according to ACS, though it can be used against Wilms' tumor. (Read about chemotherapy, radiation, biological and other cancer therapies in "Cancer Treatments")
A procedure called arterial embolization can also be done. It cuts off the blood supply to the kidney and kills the cancer cells. Sometimes it is done before an operation to make surgery easier. When surgery is not possible, embolization may be used to help relieve the symptoms of kidney cancer. In addition, NCI says radiofrequency thermal ablation, which uses intense heat to destroy tumors, is also now being used, particularly in cases where kidney cancer is hereditary and/or causes multiple or recurrent tumors.
More Cancer Information:
For a list of individual types of cancer, see Cancer: What It Is
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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