The most common and early sign of kidney cancer is blood in the urine or hematuria. Hematuria makes the urine appear rusty or even dark red, pink or orange. The signs and symptoms of kidney cancer are typically difficult to find in the early stages due to the location of the kidneys. Located deep inside the body, many early warning signs can be overlooked or simply impossible to notice with kidney cancer. Some of the warning signs of kidney cancer include
- A lump or mass in the kidney area or abdomen
- Blood in the urine
- Lower back pain or pain in the flank (outer side of the abdomen) that doesn't go away
- Recurrent fever
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Intestinal obstruction
- A general feeling of poor health
- Elevated blood pressure
- Recurrent urine or bladder infections
- For men, swollen veins around the right testicle are seen in patients with kidney cancer
Flank pain, blood in the urine and a palpable abdominal kidney are usually considered the prominent signs of kidney cancer. The above bodily changes may be warning signs of kidney cancer, although they tend not to appear until the disease is advanced. Keep in mind that these symptoms can also result from other conditions, such as a bladder infection or kidney disease.
What is kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer or renal cell carcinoma is an abnormal growth of kidney cells. Cancers are formed when normal cells start to grow rapidly and out of control. The body's normal defenses that check the growth and multiplication of cells are unable to destroy the cancer cells because they grow so quickly. As a result, these cells clump together and form a mass known as tumor or cancer. Once cancer begins to form, it can continue to grow uncontrollably and possibly spread beyond the area where it began. Microscopic pieces of tumor can also break off and spread to different locations through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The spreading of tumor cells is called metastases.
Metastatic spread is what makes cancer a deadly disease. Kidney cancer remains undetected until it becomes very large simply because there are no signs or symptoms that specifically point to its diagnosis. Kidney cancer is caused by mutated deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in cells of one or both kidneys, causing uncontrolled cell division and growth. While the exact cause of cancer may not be known, many risk factors are linked with kidney cancer. Some known risk factors of kidney cancer include
- Obesity: Being overweight, especially due to consumption of a high-fat diet, can increase the risk of kidney cancer.
- Smoking: As many know, the use of and exposure to tobacco is associated with big increases in cancer risk.
- Environmental exposures: If there is exposure to substances, such as asbestos or cadmium, there is an increased risk of developing kidney cancer.
- Kidney dialysis: Those who require the help of long-term dialysis due to their kidneys being unable to filter blood are at risk of developing kidney cancer.
- High blood pressure: The strain of high blood pressure on the kidneys can increase the odds of having kidney cancer.
- Genetics: If there is a family history of kidney cancer, the odds of developing kidney cancer may increase.
Treatment options for kidney cancer
- Surgical removal of all or part of the kidney (nephrectomy) is usually the choice. This may include removal of the bladder or surrounding tissue or lymph nodes.
- Radiation therapy is not commonly used to treat renal cell carcinoma because it is usually not successful. Hormone treatments may reduce the growth of the tumor in some cases.
- Medications, such as alpha-interferon and interleukin, have been successful in reducing the growth of some renal cell carcinomas, including some with metastasis.
- Chemotherapy may be used in some cases, but the cure is unlikely unless all cancer can be removed with surgery.
If kidney cancer is diagnosed in stage I and within 10 years, 90 to 95 percent of patients will be cured with primary treatment. However, if the cancer is advanced and metastatic (it has spread), only about 10 to 20 percent of those patients will still be alive after 5 to 10 years. Renal carcinoma is an aggressive disease when it becomes metastatic. Hence, regular health checkups are usually recommended if any symptoms are recurrent or continuing for more than a week.