Kidney cancer makes up about 3% of all adult cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 12,000 Americans will die from kidney cancer in 2005. The most common type is renal cell carcinoma, but in children the most common type is Wilms' Tumor. The cancer generally consists of a tumor on one of the kidneys, but sometimes a tumor is found on both kidneys. The tumor can be quite large before it is discovered because it is sneaky and often does not produce noticeable complications when it is small. As a result, the most common treatment for kidney cancer is to remove the kidney.
Common symptoms of kidney cancer are blood in the urine, lower back pain on one or both sides (probably the side with the tumor). If the tumor gets large enough, the mass can be seen or felt through the abdomen, especially in children. Other symptoms are the same as many cancers such as weight loss and fatigue.
The cancer is diagnosed in several ways. Blood tests check if the cancer has caused issues with the red blood cell counts, and urinalysis checks for blood in the urine. A CT Scan is done to try to get an accurate picture of the tumor, and various other X rays may be taken of the chest and abdomen to determine if the tumor has spread to other organs. An ultrasound may also be conducted to help diagnose the severity of the tumor. Depending on the results of these tests, and what type of cancer cells are present, the stage of the cancer can be determined. For example, the tumor might not have invaded the kidney completely, and the whole kidney will not need to come out. Or, the cancer is a metastasis, and is spreading to surrounding lymph nodes, blood vessels and nearby organs.
The chances of getting rid of the cancer without taking out the kidney are not very good, so it is most common for the entire kidney and attached adrenal gland to be removed, this is known as a radical nephrectomy. If the cancer is caught soon enough, and is in an early stage, only part of the kidney may need to be removed. Radiation Therapy and chemotherapy are not usually effective, and usually only considered if surgery is impossible, or if the person is already missing a kidney. Immunotherapy is now being used to help shrink kidney tumors down to half their size, which may make the surgery easier. The survival rate is pretty good for tumors that have not spread too far. Living with one kidney is just as easy as living with two if the other one is healthy. However, the survival rate is less that 10% if the cancer has spread to the surrounding areas of the kidney.
National Kidney Cancer Association www.curekidneycancer.com
American Cancer Society www.cancer.org