The two kidneys lie at the flanks of the body just behind the intestines, next to the spine. Kidneys form urine to clear some of the toxins produced by the body. The urine drains from the kidneys into ureters and then into the bladder. From the bladder, urine is passed out of the body. The cells that make up the kidney can become cancerous.
Kidney cancer accounts for less than 1 percent of all cancers. It is slightly more common in men than in women, and is mainly detected in people in their middle-age.
It is important to seek medical advice if blood is seen in the urine. A bulge may also be noticed on one side of the tummy associated with pain and discomfort. There may also be weight loss or fever.
If kidney cancer is suspected, a scan (such as computed tomography scan) is done to look at the kidneys in detail. If this test confirms abnormalities, surgery or a biopsy (removing a small piece of tissue from the tumour to look at under a microscope) will be required to obtain the diagnosis.
Surgery is the recommended treatment for early stage kidney cancer. Removal of the kidney is called nephrectomy. A person can live a normal lifespan with only one kidney if the other kidney is normal. Some patients with symptoms of pain and bleeding with minimal cancer spread elsewhere can also be offered surgery.
Sometimes radiation therapy is given. High-energy rays are focused onto the kidney cancer to relieve pain when the cancer is advanced and cannot be removed surgically. Another use for radiotherapy to the kidney cancer is to stop bleeding from the cancer. Systemic therapies, which comprise of targeted therapy and immunotherapy1, are used in advanced kidney cancer. It is not a cure but can prolong the life of the individual. There are an increasing number of new targeted therapies that have been developed in this setting2,3.
Clinical examinations scans and pathology reports all help the medical team decide what the progress of kidney cancer is. The appropriate course of treatment may then be recommended. The treatment strategy will vary from person to person. Prognosis of kidney cancer depends on the extent of the disease (stage), the state of health of the individual as well as response to treatment.
1Fyfe G, Fisher RI, Rosenberg SA, et al. Results of treatment of 255 patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma who received high-dose recombinant interleukin-2 therapy. J Clin Oncol 1995; 13:688.2Motzer RJ, Hutson TE, Tomczak P, et al. Overall survival and updated results for sunitinib compared with interferon alfa in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 2009; 27:3584.3Hudes G, Carducci M, Tomczak P, et al. Temsirolimus, interferon alfa, or both for advanced renal-cell carcinoma. N Engl J Med 2007; 356:2271.
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