What is Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer, also known as renal cell adenocarcinoma, happens when abnormal cells grow in the kidneys and get out of control.

Your kidneys are very important organs that support your health and overall well-being. A few of their important jobs include:

  • Filtering your blood
  • Maintaining the proper levels of certain minerals and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) in your body
  • Clearing waste from your body (for example, urine)
  • Creating hormones that manufacture red blood cells, help keep your blood pressure steady, and keep your bones healthy and strong

While some tumors in the kidney are cancerous (that is, malignant). In fact, 25% of all kidney tumors are benign, meaning that they are harmless and do not cause cancer. On a similar note, 40% of kidney masses (which is how kidney cancers usually start) do not spread.

What are symptoms of a Growth, or Mass, in the Kidney?

Most growths in the kidney don’t really show any symptoms in the beginning. However, when they do show symptoms, you will likely notice one or more of the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Blood in your urine, or hematuria
  • Pain in the space between your ribs and hips
  • You develop a fever that will not go away, but you do not have an infection
  • Low red blood cell count

How is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?

Most kidney cancers are discovered by chance when a patient gets an imaging test for a different medical condition. For that reason, your doctor may end up running quite a few tests to figure out if you actually have kidney cancer. In addition to the usual tests such as a complete physical exam and standard lab work, your doctor might also order one or more of the following:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan is an imaging tool doctors use to get images of things happening in the body.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a procedure that uses a combination of radio waves and magnetic fields to create images of organs and tissue inside the body.
  • Biopsy of the mass found in your kidney is key in helping your doctor determine the kind of tumor you may have.

Your doctor will use all the information collected by running these tests to determine if you have kidney cancer and if so, what kind of kidney cancer you have, whether it has spread (or metastasized) to other organs, and how to tailor a treatment plan specific to your needs. Kidney cancer generally boils down to 4 treatment options, which are:

  • Active surveillance is when your doctor will have you come in for tests and scans to monitor the activity of small masses (less than 3 cm) in your body over a period of time
  • Partial nephrectomy, or removing part of the kidney
  • Radical nephrectomy, or removing the entire kidney
  • Ablation is a technique that uses extreme temperature (either extremely hot or extremely cold) to destroy a tumor. There are two types of ablation:
    • Radiofrequency ablation destroys tumors by passing heat generated by an electrical current through a thin, needle-looking probe
    • Cryoablation destroys tumor cells when extremely cold gases circulate through a probe