What Is Kidney Cancer?
Kidneys are bean shaped organs, about the size of a human adult fist, located in the lower abdomen on each side of your spine. Cancer of the kidneys occurs when malignant cells grow and divide rapidly in the kidneys to form a tumour.
It is important to note that most people have two kidneys. However, it is possible to live a healthy life with only one.
Kidneys carry out various functions within the body, including filtering and cleaning blood, taking out waste products, and making urine.
Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, often starts in the lining of the renal tubules of the kidney.
Types of Kidney Cancer
The different types of kidney cancer, just like other cancers, are classified according to the cells in which they started forming, and include:
1. Renal Cell Cancer: This type forms when cancerous cells begin to form in the lining of the tubules that help in filtering blood and making urine
2. Wilms’ Tumour: This is a childhood cancer that occurs when immature kidney cells begin to grow out of control. Wilms’ Tumour is named after the doctor who wrote the first medical paper about it, Dr Max Wilms
3. Transitional Cell Cancer: This rare type of cancer begins to form in the transitional cells present in the lining of the renal pelvis. These cells expand and stretch when urine passes through or is stored in them.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
In its early stage, kidney cancer causes no pain and therefore it is hard to notice some of the signs, however, as it advances, signs and symptoms start showing, which include:
- Blood in urine
- Swelling of the ankles and legs
- High blood pressure
- Extreme fatigue
- Unintended or unexplained weight loss
- Recurrent fever (that is not as a result of a cold or other infection)
- Loss of appetite
It is important to note that some of these symptoms may be due to other medical conditions, and thus one should visit a doctor for a clear diagnosis.
Risk Factors and Causes of Kidney Cancer
The following factors may increase ones’ risk of developing kidney cancer:
- Obesity: people with normal weight have a lower risk of getting kidney cancer compared to obese people
- Smoking: non-smokers have a reduced kidney cancer risk compared to smokers
- Exposure to cadmium fumes when working with batteries, paint or welding materials
- Chronic kidney disease: people born with inherited syndromes have an increased risk of getting kidney cancer
- Hypertension (high blood pressure): this increases your risk of kidney disease, especially in men
- Continued use of dialysis: people who have received long term dialysis treatment have a greater risk of developing cancerous cysts in their kidneys.
- Older age: There is a higher chance of getting cancer for people aged 50 and over
Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
There are numerous tests done for kidney cancer, including:
- Cytoscopy and ureteroscopy: in cytoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light on the end is inserted through your urethra to visualize the inside of your bladder. Ureteroscopy on the other hand, is an examination of the ureter through a ureteroscope (similar to the device used in cytoscopy)
- Biopsy: this is the removal of a small amount of renal tissue for a microscopic examination
- Blood and urine test: a blood test is done to evaluate the number of red blood cells in the blood, while a urine test is done to test for blood or cancer cells in the urine.
These are some of the common treatment options for Kidney Cancer
- Surgery: This is done to remove cancer cells or tumors and depending on the stage of the cancer, can be followed by other treatment options. The different types of surgery to remove kidney cancer can include:
1. Partial nephrectomy: This is a surgery done to remove a tumour from the kidney, thereby preserving the kidney and lowering the risk of chronic kidney disease. This surgery treats kidney cancer that is not wide spread in the kidney and tissues around the kidney. Other cancer treatments can follow to prevent the cancer from spreading or reoccurring.
2. Radical nephrectomy: This refers to the removal of the entire kidney and the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. It is used to treat kidney cancer that has spread throughout the kidney and to the surrounding tissues. Other treatments can be used to ensure that the cancer does not spread or reoccur.
Laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgeries are modern minimally-invasive techniques that can be used to perform these surgeries leaving less scars and allowing for shorter recovery time.
3. Cryosurgery: In this procedure, the cancer cells are frozen using a metal probe that is inserted into the body through a small incision. This procedure can be combined with laparoscopy in the treatment of kidney cancer.
4. Transplant: When the cancer has spread to both kidneys and the kidneys are failing, a kidney transplant can be carried out through which a healthy kidney is transferred from a donor to a recipient.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses anti- cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells in the body. These drugs can be taken orally or injected into the body.
- Radiotherapy: This involves using high- energy beams to kill cancer cells and may be external (using x- rays) or internal by using radioactive pellets.
- Target Therapy: It is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to target specific cancer cells without causing damage to normal cells.
- Immunotherapy: This cancer treatment option is meant to boost the immune system of the body and make it aware of the presence of cancer in the body thereby being able to fight the cancer cells.
Despite the fact that there are no proven ways of preventing this disease, you can reduce your risk by:
- Observing a healthy diet by limiting cholesterol intake, eating variety of fruits and vegetables rich in fiber
- Limiting salt intake
- Doing exercises regularly
- Quitting tobacco smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Regular check-up especially if your risk of developing kidney cancer is high.
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