THE BLOG
06/05/2013 12:57 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

5 Important Facts About Kidney Cancer

Each year in the United States, about 51,000 adults will be diagnosed with kidney cancer. As with so many serious diseases, the earlier kidney cancer is found, the better the outcome. Kidney cancer can often be cured if found and treated before it has spread.

According to new research published in the National Kidney Foundation's American Journal of Kidney Disease, the optimal treatment carefully removes cancerous portions of the kidney, as opposed to the entire kidney. This can preserve kidney function and ultimately save lives, but unfortunately many physicians and patients remain unaware of its benefits.

Like most cancers, kidney cancer treatment depends on the stage of the disease, size, the patient's general health, age and other factors. Kidney cancer is usually treated with a combination of radiation therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and nephrectomy. A nephrectomy surgically removes all or part of the kidney, and there are two different types of nephrectomies performed.

  1. A "radical nephrectomy" removes the entire kidney and its surrounding tissue.
  2. A "partial nephrectomy" removes tumors but aims to save as much of the kidney and its function as possible.

When used to treat small kidney tumors, radical nephrectomy -- the more aggressive procedure -- has been shown to increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular complications, while partial nephrectomy has less risk of progressive kidney disease and has equal cancer free survival. In this new study, researchers found that despite the risks, a majority of kidney cancer patients, even those already diagnosed with chronic kidney disease who were at increased risk for kidney failure, underwent radical nephrectomies.

With some knowledge, you have the power to save your kidneys. Learn the top five kidney cancer facts from the National Kidney Foundation:

  1. The Types: There are two main types of kidney cancer: renal cell cancer and transitional cell cancer. The most common type of adult kidney cancer is renal cell cancer, which begins in the lining of the renal tubules -- tiny tubes in the kidney that clean the blood and make urine. Renal cell cancer may metastasize, which means it may spread to other parts of the body, most often the bones or lungs. About 30 percent of those who are diagnosed with renal cell cancer develop advanced (metastatic) disease.
  2. The Risk Factors: The exact cause of kidney cancer is unclear, but having advanced chronic kidney disease may place you at increased risk for developing kidney cancer. Other risk factors include: smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, family history of kidney cancer, chronic kidney disease, exposure to radiation therapy or carcinogenic chemicals, and long-term use of phenacetin (a painkiller).
  3. The Likelihood: Kidney cancer is about twice as common in men than women. Black people have a slightly higher rate of renal cell cancer than white people. Brothers and sisters of people with kidney cancer have a much higher chance of getting the disease.
  4. The Signs and Symptoms: In the early stages, renal cell cancer usually causes no clear signs or symptoms. CT scans and ultrasounds done for other reasons often find kidney cancers. As the tumor grows, symptoms may include blood in the urine or a lump/mass in the area of the back near the kidneys. Less often, patients may experience constant pain in the side near a kidney, high blood pressure or anemia. These symptoms can also be caused by less serious problems such as a benign (non-cancerous) cyst or an infection. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your physician or health care clinician. He or she will do some tests to find out what is causing your problem.
  5. The Follow Up: To find kidney cancer, your health care provider may perform blood and urine testing in addition to ordering imaging of the kidneys and nearby organs. These may include a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound or special X-rays that can show if a tumor is present and can help tell whether it is cancerous or not. Having kidney cancer places you at increased risk for developing chronic kidney disease, even if you don't already have kidney disease. It's important to work with your health care team -- specialists and primary care practitioners alike -- to monitor your kidney function over time. This way if there are any changes in your kidney function you will be able to detect them early.

Have a question about kidney cancer or kidney disease? Ask me in the comment section below.

For more by Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP, click here.

For more health news, click here.

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