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Kidney cancer: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About kidney cancer

Kidneys are bean-shaped paired abdominal organs which carry out vital functions of a human body. The kidneys are responsible for removing waste and toxins from the blood, and subsequently concentrating the remaining fluid to be excreted as urine. The cancer of kidneys involves abnormal growth of the kidney cells resulting in disruption of kidney functions. A kidney tumour in adults is commonly termed as renal cell carcinoma and in children as Wilm’s tumour.

Kidney cancer: Incidence, age and sex

Kidney cancer constitutes almost 2 to 3% of all cancers in humans. It more commonly affects individuals in age group of 50-70 years. But it may also be seen in children and young adults. It is slightly more frequent in men as compared with women.

Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer: Diagnosis

An individual with kidney cancer usually manifest with vague symptoms like fever, loss of appetite and weight loss, in the early stages. Sometimes there may be no symptoms at all. In fact, the first and most common feature of kidney cancer is the presence of blood in urine (haematuria). The haematuria may be gross wherein (macroscopic haematuria) the urine is red or cola coloured. On the other hand, colour of urine may be normal, in spite of presence of red blood cells in it (microscopic haematuria). This kind of haematuria (microscopic haematuria) can only be diagnosed on microscopic examination of urine in laboratory. Individuals with advanced cancer may present with pain in the flanks or presence of lump in the abdomen. Sometimes he/she may also be pale and exhibit fatigue and breathlessness which may occur due to presence of anaemia (feature of advanced kidney cancer).

The cancer of kidney is usually detected late due to absent or vague features. Blood tests showing anaemia (low haemoglobin count) and increased calcium levels corroborate the diagnosis. Other investigations like CT & MRI scan of abdomen and urine test will confirm the diagnosis. Chest x-ray, bone scan and serum bilirubin may be done to check for spread of cancer to lungs, bones and the liver respectively.

Causes and prevention of kidney cancer

Several risk factors have been postulated to the causation of kidney cancer. Such factors include smoking, ingestion of excessive analgesic medication, radiation therapy, obesity, high blood pressure and persistent exposure to toxic chemicals.

Kidney cancer: Complications

Kidney cancer is a malignant growth of the kidney cells and can spread to various organs like liver, lungs and bones via the circulatory route. Occasionally, it may also invade major veins of body (placed near kidney) namely the renal vein or the inferior vena cava, resulting in life threatening consequences.

Kidney cancer: Treatment

The management of kidney cancer requires a multi-disciplinary approach including the expertise of a nephrologist, an oncologist, a surgeon and a haematologist may be needed to detect the exact pathology of haematuria and plan the subsequent treatment. The treatment plan of kidney cancer is based upon the stage of cancer and health status of affected individual. The choice of treatment in early stage of kidney cancer when it is localised to kidney tissue is resection of tumour. However, radiation therapy may also be needed if the cancer has spread beyond kidneys. Other newer treatment modalities are molecular targeted therapy and immunotherapy which can also be considered. Molecular targeted therapy uses certain drugs named Sunitinib, Sorafenib which target biological pathways thereby leading to curb of cancerous growth of kidney cells. Immunotherapy treatment includes use of interleukins and interferons which are still under consideration. The prognosis of kidney cancer depends upon the stage and spread of the cancer. Early diagnosis may lead to complete recovery and good survival rate.