Kidney cancer symptoms and diagnosis.
Kidney cancer is a urologic cancer that starts in one or both kidneys. In its early stages, it may not exhibit any notable symptoms. As the cancer progresses, patients will begin to notice established symptoms of kidney cancer. However, many of these symptoms are also associated with several very common urologic conditions. It’s important for individuals to have any unusual symptoms evaluated to identify their root cause, and to receive the appropriate treatment.
Symptoms of kidney cancer
As kidney cancer progresses, patients may present with any of the following symptoms. It’s important to note that having these symptoms does not mean an individual has kidney cancer. For example, blood in the urine is a common symptom for a urinary tract infection or kidney stone.
Kidney cancer symptoms can include:
- An abdominal or flank mass.
- Abdominal or flank pain.
- Blood in the urine (hematuria).
- High blood pressure.
- Night sweats.
- Weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
With today’s technology, it is becoming easier to diagnose kidney tumors at a much earlier stage. Still, most kidney cancers are found as an incidental finding. For instance, a patient might complain of back pain, so an MRI is ordered. The MRI is initially ordered to investigate the back pain, but rather than discovering a back problem, a small tumor is found on the kidney. These types of incidential discoveries allow doctors to diagnose kidney cancer at earlier stages.
There are several diagnostic tools that can be used for the detection of kidney cancer:
- Review of personal and family history.
- Review of symptoms.
- Urinalysis – Screening for blood in the urine (hematuria).
- Blood work – Complete blood panel and blood chemistry tests.
- Imaging – X-ray, CT Scan, MRI, PET Scan.
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP).
- Kidney biopsy.
Treatment options for kidney cancer
Partial Nephrectomy – Surgery remains the main stay of treatment for kidney cancers. When a tumor is small enough, and accessible in the kidney, oftentimes the tumor and surrounding tissue is all that is removed. This procedure is called a partial nephrectomy. This can be done with open surgery, laparoscopically, or with a robotic laparoscopic approach. The goal is to maintain as much good functioning kidney tissue as possible.
Radical Nephrectomy / Kidney removal – For larger tumors, or tumors that are harder to access, the entire kidney may need to be removed. This can be done through minimally invasive approaches, such as laparoscopy (Laparoscopic Nephrectomy).
Observation – For patients who are not good candidates for surgery, and who have a tumor 3 centimeters or smaller, observation of the tumor is an option.
Oblative techniques – Local ablative techniques such as radiofrequency ablation or cryoablation (freezing) to help with local control of the tumor.
Chemotherapy – Used for renal cell carcinoma, but only in patients who have very advanced or metastatic disease.
Kidney cancer survival rate is dependent on several factors:
- Tumor grade – Tumors are graded based on how abnormal they are.
- Tumor stage – Tumors are staged based on how confined they are within the kidney.
- The patient’s overall health status
- Patient’s age