Kidneys are part of the urinary system and are the bean shaped pair of organs located on either side of the spine in the back of the lower abdomen. The major function of the kidneys is to cleanse the blood of waste products and excrete them from the body in the form of urine.
What is kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer or renal cancer is a malignant disease of the kidney cells. Renal cell carcinoma affects the tubules of the kidneys and is the most common form of kidney cancer in adults. Sometimes, young children develop a form of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumour. Men are more predisposed to the condition than women, mainly occurring between the ages of 50 to 70.
Causes of Kidney Cancer
The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown. There are certain factors that may increase the risk of developing kidney cancer such as smoking, prolonged dialysis treatment, family history of the disease, high blood pressure, polycystic kidney disease, obesity and Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome (hereditary disease). Occupational exposure to certain substances and chemicals may also raise the risk for kidney cancer.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
The symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in the urine that may appear pink, red or rust coloured, constant back pain just below the ribs, presence of a lump felt in the side or the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, intermittent fever and swelling in the ankles and legs. Other symptoms such as excessive hair growth in females, pale skin and vision problems may also develop. If the kidney cancer spreads to other parts of the body it may present symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing up blood and bone pain. Fortunately, most cases of kidney cancer are detected before the cancer has spread to other areas.
Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
In order to diagnose kidney cancer the doctor will perform a physical examination to check your general health and assess any mass or swelling in the abdomen. Blood and urine tests, and imaging studies such as CT scan, ultrasound or MRI scan may be ordered to investigate the presence of any abnormalities. A biopsy may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
Once diagnosis of kidney cancer is made, other tests including bone scan and chest X-ray may be ordered to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Treatment of Kidney Cancer
Surgery is the most recommended course of treatment for kidney cancer. Surgery may involve complete removal of the kidney or partial removal of the cancerous part of the kidney only whilst preserving the normal part of the kidney. Your surgeon will discuss the various options based on your particular condition. It is possible to survive with one functioning kidney. If both kidneys must be removed, you will require dialysis or a kidney transplant.
If it is possible, we will aim to preserve as much normal kidney tissue as possible and perform a partial removal of the cancerous part of the kidney. Studies have linked better overall kidney function with better long-term health and longer life expectancy.
Key-hole surgery (laparoscopy), with 3-4 small incisions, is usually used to perform kidney cancer surgery. Robotic assisted key-hole surgery can be used for complex partial nephrectomies.