Your kidneys are fist-sized bean-shaped organs that lie behind your abdominal organs, one on each side of your spine. The cancer that originates here is kidney cancer.
Renal cell carcinoma is the most common kidney cancer in adults. There are other types, but they are rare. Wilms’ tumor is more likely to develop in children.
With the rise in the use of computerized tomography (what you may know as CT scans), kidney cancer incidence seems to be on the rise. These tests may be leading to the accidental discovery of more kidney cancers.
- Blood in the urine, which may appear pink, red or cola-colored
- Back pain just below the ribs that doesn’t go away
- Weight loss
- Fever that comes and goes
Early stage kidney cancer rarely causes noticeable symptoms. If any of these symptoms appear and become worrisome, make an appointment with your doctor.
The immediate cause of kidney cancer is not clear. It occurs with a mutation in kidney cell DNA. These mutations instruct the cells to rapidly grow and divide. These cells accumulate and form tumors that can extend beyond the kidney. If the cells break away and spread to other parts of the body, the cancer has metastasized.
Once kidney cancer is diagnosed, the team will assess the stage, discuss patient health and preferences, assess treatment options and take into account possible side effects. It’s best if you take time to learn about your options, so you can ask questions about anything that is unclear. Also think about your goals for treatment, and make sure you know what to expect during treatment.
Kidney cancer is treated both surgically and non-surgically. Surgery is the most common treatment for kidney cancer, but we also employ minimally invasive options such as cryosurgery and HIFU.
Surgery is a local therapy, treating the area close to the tumor. The operation to remove a kidney is called a nephrectomy. Nephrectomies can be performed via open surgery, laparascopic, or with the da Vinci robotic method. The stage of tumor will help determine which surgical method we use.
- Radical nephrectomy is the removal of the entire kidney, along with the adrenal gland and some surrounding tissue. The surgeon may also opt to remove some lymph nodes.
- Simple nephrectomy is the removal of just the kidney and is used for some people with Stage I kidney cancer.
- Partial nephrectomy is the removal of part of the kidney. Those with small tumors (less than 4cm) may have this procedure. It is also used for those who have only one kidney, or have cancer affecting both kidneys.
Cryosurgery is considered a non-surgical option, despite its name. During cryosurgery, a hollow instrument called a cryoprobe is inserted into the body through the skin, then guided to the tumor with ultrasound or MRI. The cryoprobe is put in contact with the tumor, then liquid nitrogen is delivered through the probe, freezing the abnormal cells and destroying them. Sometimes, more than one probe is used. After cryosurgery, the frozen tissue thaws and is naturally absorbed by the body.
HIFU is the acronym for high-intensity focused ultrasound. As the name describes, HIFU uses high-energy, high-frequency focused sound waves to destroy the tumor cells. The sound waves raise the cells’ temperature, killing them. HIFU can be performed under local or general anesthetic, and may need to be done more than once. Possible side effects include pain in the kidney area, bleeding and infection.