Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of adult kidney cancer and is a mass that grows in the urine producing portion of the kidney.
It is more common than cancer of the renal pelvis, the part of the kidney that collects the urine. Affecting about 32,000 Americans each year, this cancer usually responds well to treatment when caught early.
RISK FACTORS FOR RENAL CELL CARCINOMA
The more common risk factors associated with renal cell carcinoma are:
- Age, sex and race - being older than 60, male or African American puts you at higher risk
- High blood pressure
- Family history
- Long term hemodialysis
- Certain genetic disorders such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease
SYMPTOMS OF RENAL CELL CARCINOMA
Early renal cell carcinoma often has no symptoms and may be found by chance during a CT scan or ultrasound that is performed for other reasons. The symptoms of more advanced RCC include:
- Blood in your urine (hematuria) - the most common sign
- Mass or lump in your abdominal area
- Pain in your side, flank or lower back
- Swelling in your legs and ankles
- Late symptoms include anemia (low blood count), persistent fatigue and rapid weight loss
It’s important to note that a number of these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions. For this reason, it is important that you speak to your doctor about any symptoms you may experience and have annual physical exams to maintain your good health.
Diagnosing Kidney Cancer
To make the most accurate diagnosis, your urologist will perform a complete physical examination, talk to you about your medical history and ask questions about your lifestyle and symptoms including:
- Do you smoke?
- What symptoms are you experiencing?
- When did you first notice these symptoms?
- Do your symptoms come and go or are they constant?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- Do you have a family history of kidney cancer?
Your doctor may also order additional imaging and lab tests, including:
- CT Scan, MRI or ultrasound
- Blood tests
- X-ray or bone scan – if cancer is diagnosed, these tests determine if cancer has spread to the lungs or bones
- In rarer circumstances, a needle biopsy if a kidney mass is found
The standard treatment for renal cell carcinoma is surgery, which is performed in the hospital. The following procedures can be performed through various approaches including laparoscopically or robotically, where several small incisions replace one larger one to permit less pain and faster recovery:
- Nephrectomy – Removal of the whole kidney
- Partial nephrectomy – Removal of only the cancerous part of the kidney. Studies have shown that this approach can be just as effective as a radical nephrectomy for many patients with early stage disease.
ALTERNATIVES TO SURGERY FOR LOCALIZED DISEASE
- Active surveillance – Deferring treatment and actively monitoring the tumor to assess its growth pattern
- Cryosurgery – Freezing the cancer cells to destroy them, using a needle either inserted through the skin or at the time of laparoscopy
- Radiofrequency ablation – Using a type of heat energy to destroy the cancer cells
In more advanced cases of cancer or in patients with metastases, we utilize targeted therapy which is a milder form of chemotherapy used to slow the growth of the tumor.