Kidney cancer is a type of genitourinary cancer that starts in the kidneys, which are small but mighty organs responsible for filtering waste and excess fluid from the blood. Because it’s one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States, it's important to be aware of the key symptoms to act on as soon as possible.
Restoring harmony to your kidney function
Your kidneys play a big role in helping your body function properly. You can thank them for everything from filtering out waste and toxic substances to regulating your blood pressure and pH balance. When your kidneys’ harmony is disrupted by cancerous cells, it can have serious effects on your health.
Receiving a kidney cancer diagnosis is a heavy weight to bear. But we’re here to help lighten the load — physically, mentally and emotionally. At Tufts Medicine, our brightest minds in medicine are working toward the same goal: helping you feel like yourself again.
Nephrology is the branch of medicine that diagnoses, treats and manages conditions and diseases affecting the kidneys. Your kidneys serve as the starting point of your genitourinary system (urinary and genital organs) and play a big role in helping the system function smoothly. So when your kidneys are affected by cancer, it can derail your body's natural functions.
Kidney cancer take take different forms. Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for about 90% of all cases. Other rarer forms of kidney cancer include:
- Renal adenocarcinoma
- Renal lymphoma
- Renal medullary carcinoma
- Renal sarcoma
- Transitional cell carcinoma
- Wilms tumor
Kidney cancer symptoms
Kidney cancer doesn’t always show obvious symptoms, especially early on. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of your kidney health and schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, contact your doctor or nephrologist (kidney specialist) as soon as possible:
- Blood in the urine
- Lumps in the abdomen or side
- Pain in the back, side or abdomen
- Scrotal swelling (in people with a scrotum)
- Sudden, unexpected weight loss
Kidney cancer can be difficult for doctors to detect because of where the kidneys are located. They sit deep inside the body, so it's likely you won't feel or notice anything unusual until the tumors grow larger.
That doesn’t deter our radiology experts, who use state-of-the-art equipment and their years of experience to spot kidney abnormalities and kickstart the treatment process.
If you’re experiencing kidney cancer symptoms, your doctor may order an imaging test like the following to better visualize the tumors:
These tools create clear pictures of your insides, which help us find any tumors or other unusual signs.
Genetic risk assessment
It's fairly uncommon to pass kidney cancer down through families. However, certain genetic conditions like renal cell cancer can increase your risk of developing kidney cancer. With a genetic risk assessment, you can learn if your genes put you at a greater risk of developing kidney cancer.
Your health is personal, so your kidney cancer care should be, too. We'll take several important factors into account when mapping out your treatment path, like your type of kidney cancer, health history and lifestyle.
Treating localized cancer
If your kidney cancer is contained to only your kidney, our first course of action is to determine if surgery is right for you. Surgery allows us to remove a part of or the whole kidney.
Most people can live with only one kidney. If we think you still need both, we’ll use a technique called nephron-sparing surgery to target and remove only the cancerous cells.
For patients with localized renal cell carcinoma (RCC), further treatment after surgery isn't usually needed.
Treating metastatic cancer
Metastatic kidney cancer means that the cancerous tumors have spread to other parts of the body. Living with kidney cancer at this stage is complex, but understanding your treatment options doesn’t have to be.
We usually opt for one or more of the following approaches to treat metastatic kidney cancer. We can also connect you with the latest treatment innovations through our clinical trials.
Tumors are like leeches, in that they use blood to grow and thrive. Anti-angiogenic therapy reduces blood supply to the tumor, which can slow or stop its growth.
Immunotherapy harnesses the power of your own immune system to destroy cancer cells. Your doctor may use a vaccine, medication or injections to train your immune system to recognize abnormal cells while protecting healthy ones.
Targeted therapy uses medication to slow the growth of tumors by “targeting” one or more steps in the cancer’s growth process. Depending on your particular situation, we may recommend temsirolimus (Torisel®) or everolimus (Afinitor®).
A number of environmental and clinical factors can make someone more likely to develop RCC, including:
- Acquired cystic disease of the kidney
- Analgesic-induced kidney disease
- Exposure to toxic compounds (asbestos, cadmium and petroleum by-products)