The kidneys are a pair of organs on either side of the spine in the lower abdomen and are part of the urinary tract. Each kidney is about the size of a fist. Attached to the top of each kidney is an adrenal gland. A mass of fatty tissue and an outer layer of fibrous tissue enclose the kidneys and adrenal glands.
The kidneys make urine by removing wastes and extra water from the blood. Urine collects in a hollow space (renal pelvis) in the middle of each kidney and passes from the renal pelvis into the bladder through a tube called a ureter. Urine leaves the body through another tube (the urethra). The kidneys also make substances that help control blood pressure and the production of red blood cells.
Several types of cancer can start in the kidney. Renal cell cancer is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. Another type of cancer – transitional cell carcinoma- affects the renal pelvis. It is similar to bladder cancer and is often treated like bladder cancer. When kidney cancer spreads outside the kidney, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. Kidney cancer also may spread to the lungs, bones, liver or from one kidney to the other.
When cancer spreads (metastasizes) from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. For example, if kidney cancer spreads to the lungs, the cancer cells in the lungs are actually kidney cancer cells. The disease is metastatic kidney cancer, not lung cancer and is treated as such. Doctors sometimes call the new tumor metastatic or “distant” disease.
Who’s at Risk for Kidney Cancer?
Kidney cancer develops most often in people over 40, but no one knows the exact causes of this disease. Doctors can seldom explain why one person develops kidney cancer and another does not. Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop kidney cancer. Studies have found the following risk factors for kidney cancer:
- High blood pressure;
- Long-term dialysis;
- Gender (Males are more likely than females to be diagnosed with kidney cancer.)
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
Common symptoms of kidney cancer include:
- Blood in the urine;
- Pain in the side that does not go away;
- A lump or mass in the side or the abdomen;
- Unexplained Weight loss;
- Feeling very tired or having a general feeling of poor health.
Most often, these symptoms do not mean cancer. An infection, a cyst, or another problem also can cause the same symptoms. A person with any of these symptoms should see a doctor so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
If a patient has symptoms that suggest kidney cancer, the doctor may perform one or more of the following procedures:
- Physical exam;
- Urine tests;
- Blood tests;
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP);
- CAT scan;
- Ultrasound test;
Treatment for Kidney Cancer
To plan the best treatment, the doctor needs to know the stage (extent) of the disease. The stage is based on the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. At any stage of disease, people with kidney cancer may have treatment to control pain and other symptoms, to relieve the side effects of therapy, and to ease emotional and practical problems. This kind of treatment is called supportive care, symptom management, or palliative care.
We’re here to help!
If you feel that you may be at risk for kidney cancer, don’t wait! Call our office today to schedule an appointment to discuss ways to reduce the risk and plan an appropriate schedule for consistent checkups.