Understanding Kidney Cancer
Kidneys, a pair of bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist, are one of the most vital organs of the human body. In recent years, incidence of kidney cancer has shown a rise due to major shifts in lifestyle patterns. Also known as ‘renal cancer’, it is a condition where kidney cells become malignant (cancerous) and grow out of control, forming a mass or tumour. Generally, kidney cancer is diagnosed at an early stage helping in quick and easy treatment. However, if left unnoticed, it multiplies and spreads to different organs.
This World Kidney Cancer Day, we are following the theme “Living Well with Kidney Disease”, which leads to raising awareness to observe the early signs and effective treatment methods to control the spread of tumor’s infection.
Signs and Symptoms
Often in its initial stage, a person may not possess an early sign of kidney cancer. Sometimes, these symptoms are also mistaken with other infections, until the tumor grows larger and worsens over time. However, some of the possible signs are;
· Extreme fatigue
· Blood in urine (haematuria)
· Persistent lower back pain
· Pain in the ribs
· Lump or swelling on the side of the torso
· Abdomen pain
· Fever and night sweats
· Sudden weight loss
· Loss of appetite
· Swelling in your ankles or legs
If kidney cancer spreads to the other parts of the body, a person may experience unusual symptoms including shortness of breath, pain in bones, coughing up blood, and so on.
Causes and Risk Factors
Usually, diagnosing the exact cause of cancer is challenging and kidney cancer is no exception. Mostly, the actual cause of cancer is never found. However, some risk factors are always present that can trigger the risk of developing cancer, such as:
· Poor Diet and Obesity
· Exposure to chlorinated chemicals
· High Blood Pressure
· Chronic kidney disease
· History of kidney dialysis
· Long-term use of painkillers
· Genetic & Hereditary factors
Types of Kidney Cancer
There are several different types of kidney cancer, some of the common ones are;
· Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC)
Mostly found in adults, it starts to develop in the renal tubes (tiny tubes of the nephron)in the kidney. Usually, it grows as a single mass but can grow into more than one tumor in single or both kidneys. RCC have a tendency to spread to the other parts of the body including bones, lungs or to the brain.
· Transitional cell carcinoma
Also known as urothelial carcinoma, it originates in the tissue that develops the tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder. Around 10-15% of adults are detected with TCC in which the cancer begins in the ureters or in the bladder.
· Wilms’ Tumour
Generally found in children, Wilms’ tumor also known as nephroblastoma is a form of kidney cancer that can be developed due to the loss or inactivation of a tumor suppressor gene responsible for inhibiting tumor growth or control cell growth. Nearly all cases of Wilms tumor are diagnosed before the age of 10 years.
Stages of Kidney Cancer
Defining the severity of the condition, Kidney cancer is divided into four stages. The higher stage indicates an advanced level of cancer spread into the body or in the particular part of the Kidney
Stage I – Being the first stage of the condition, the cancer is limited to be spread only to one kidney. The size of the tumour is nearly 7 centimetres or could be smaller.
Stage II – At this stage, the tumour found in the kidney has grown more than 7 centimetres and is still limited to the kidney.
Stage III – Now, cancer has begun to spread to the different parts around the kidney affecting fatty areas, lymph nodes and surrounding tissues. The risk increases as a mass or tumor can extend into major veins or perinephric tissues.
Stage IV – It’s a last stage where cancer cells have vigorously grown beyond the fatty layer of tissue around the kidney. The parts affected with the cancer could be nearby lymph nodes, or other organs such as bowel, pancreas, liver and lungs. It’s a crucial stage where infection can spread to the bones and brain.
Treatment for Kidney Cancer
Similar to other cancers, treatment for kidney cancer gets difficult if not diagnosed at early stages. Today, both surgical and non-surgical techniques are present to treat cancer, depending on the stage, type, location and overall condition the best method is suggested to the patient.
In maximum cases, Surgery is the first line of treatment for eradicating malignant tumors in the kidney, the procedure is widely known as Nephrectomy. During the procedure, the surgeon may remove part or all of a kidney including tissues connected to the tumor. If required, adrenal gland, lymph nodes and other tissues are removed too. However, it is possible as the human body can easily function with one healthy kidney.
In other conditions, a technique called arterial embolization is recommended to shrink the tumor. As a part of the procedure, a catheter is inserted and some synthetic materials are passed through the blood vessels to block the supply of oxygen-carrying blood. In the end, the lack of oxygen and nutrients will shrink the size of the tumor.
Also, a person may undergo some of the therapies as a treatment for Kidney cancer, which includes;
· Radiation therapy- In this procedure, high-energy radiations are used to kill cancer cells. It can also be used to relieve pain and other symptoms when kidney cancer spreads to bones.
· Chemotherapy- A patient is given powerful drugs to attack and kill cancer cells that helps in delaying the progress of cancer. Chemotherapy is generally not so effective against kidney cancer.
· Immunotherapy- The procedure targets the immune system and boosts it to fight against cancer cells. This treatment option has shown some significant success in the treatment of advanced kidney cancer.
Learning to live with cancer can be stressful. Fighting kidney cancer is a long process, no matter whether you have experienced surgical treatment or have undergone therapies. One can heave a sigh of relief after finishing treatment, yet the risk of relapse remains due to several factors. Some patients may have to continue having chemotherapy or targeted therapy or other treatments to keep cancer in check. It is essential to consult an expert, and seek appropriate treatment to minimize the side effects and risk related to the treatment.