Kidney cancer

The kidneys are located on each side of the spine just above the waist. They make urine by filtering waste products and extra water from the blood. They also help regulate blood pressure.

Kidney cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in one or both kidneys. Renal cell cancer (or renal cell carcinoma) is the most common type of kidney cancer.

The cause of this disease is not known. It occurs mostly in adults who are over 40 years old. The risk for kidney cancer is higher if you:

  • are male
  • smoke tobacco
  • have high blood pressure
  • are being treated with long-term dialysis
  • are obese
  • have von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (a hereditary disease).

Symptoms can include:

  • blood in the urine (most common symptom)
  • a lump that can be felt in the abdomen
  • pain in the lower side of the back or the side (called flank pain) that does not go away
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • fever and night sweats.

Diagnosis

With the advent of more people undergoing ultrasounds and scans, incidental "lumps" in the kidney are sometimes noted that give rise to concern.A CT scan of the kidney is required to better characterize the lump and see if it is likely to be cancerous.

In some cases, removal and examination of the lump (excision or partial nephrectomy) is necessary to provide a conclusive answer.

Treatment

The treatment for kidney cancer depends on how large the tumor is, whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body, and your general health.

Usually the kidney is removed with surgery (nephrectomy). The chances of cure depend on how large the tumor is and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

If the cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other tissues, the long-term survival rates after surgical removal of the kidney are good. After treatment your doctor will recommend regular checkups to follow your recovery and to check for signs whether the cancer has come back or spread. These checkups may include blood tests, X-rays, and scans. It is important to follow your doctor's recommendations for checkups so that any problems can be found early.

Biotherapy, also called immunotherapy, which helps the body's own defenses to fight the cancer is used when the cancer has spread outside the kidney.

Prevention

Limit or prevent, if possible, your exposure to cigarette smoke, which is associated with increased risk for this disease. Have regular checkups to monitor your blood pressure and health.

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