Your kidneys are responsible for flushing out excess water, salt, and waste products from blood that comes in via renal arteries. But, if the functioning of your kidney is disrupted then one may also encounter kidney cancer. Sadly, not many are aware of this fatal cancer, its causes and symptoms. This makes this cancer riskier. Considering that, we spoke to Dr. Bharat Bhosale, Medical Oncologist at Bombay Hospital and Holy Spirit Hospital, Mumbai to know about renal cancer. Read on to know more about this and seek appropriate treatment if you are one of them having who is suffering from it.
What is kidney cancer and how it is caused?
Renal Cancer is Multifactorial. It occurs when the kidney cells tend to become cancerous which is malignant and these cells grow out of control leading to the formation of tumours. Did you know this? Most kidney cancers tend to primarily appear in one’s lining of tubules in the kidney. But it is fortunate that many kidney cancers can be detected at an early stage before they spread to other organs in the body. Moreover, catching them at an early stage can lead to successful treatment. But you will also be shocked to know that the tumours can turn big in size even before their detection.
Types of Renal Cancer
The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma or RCC. In this cancer, the malignant cells grow in the walls of the small tubes or tubules present in the kidney. If diagnosed, these cancerous cells may grow into a mass or group of cells that may obstruct the pathway. Also, cancer cells may grow in one or both kidneys. While RCC is the only type, there are various subtypes of renal cell carcinoma.
- Clear cell RCC: Most cases of kidney cancer are of this subtype where the cancerous cells look clear or pale when closely monitored in the microscope.
- Papillary RCC: About 10-15 percent of renal cancers are papillary RCC. They have a finger-like appearance if you look at them in the microscope.
- Chromophobe RCC: This cancer is larger in size as compared to other subtypes. Just like clear cell RCC, these also have a clear or pale appearance.
- Collecting duct RCC: This is a rare subtype of renal cancer where cancerous cells take shape of irregular tubes.
- Unclassified RCC: This is another rare type whose shape and size cannot be classified as they are extremely smaller.
What are the risk factors?
As RCC is a multifactorial disease, there are certain factors that can put you at risk of it. It is no brainer that smoking can put you at risk of cancer. Not only lung cancer but it can cause kidney cancer too. Hence, smoking doubles the risk of cancer in those who smoke on regular basis. Thus, smokers are at an increased risk of cancer than non-smokers. Males are more at risk of kidney cancer than females. Even obesity, having advanced kidney disease, certain medication, and hypertension can be the culprits behind the occurrence of kidney cancer. History of renal cancer in a family member is also a risk factor to develop similar cancer among other family members.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
These are the symptoms of kidney cancer: poor appetite, bloody urine, unexplained weight loss, tiredness, and even swelling of the ankles and legs. In case you notice such symptoms then you will have to consult the doctor on an immediate basis. If cancer tends to spread at the other body parts then you may also encounter breathing problems and coughing up blood, body pain, weight loss. You will have to undergo a urine and blood test for confirmation of kidney cancer. Even an ultrasound, MRI and CT scan can aid in the diagnosis of it. Sometimes, even a biopsy can be carried out to detect cancer. After the diagnosis of cancer, you will also have to opt for some other tests to see t whether cancer has spread to the other organs of the body such as a PET scan or Bone scan.
How to Treat Kidney Cancer?
Surgery is part of treatment for the early stages of kidney cancer where surgery is curative. for advanced stages, it’s palliative and opted for some metastatic renal cancer. Based on the stage and type of renal cancer, you will be given appropriate treatment.
- You can opt for a surgery that is radical nephrectomy that is the removal of your kidney, adrenal gland, and even the surrounding tissue, or simple nephrectomy wherein only the kidney is removed. Even radiofrequency ablation, radiation therapy, and systemic therapy can be suggested by the doctor in certain types only.
- Nowadays, with advances in treatment modalities targeted oral drugs and immunotherapy drugs are used alone or in combinations in most types of advanced kidney cancer.
- There are many types of targeted therapies and immunotherapy drugs. Your doctor will suggest the right one for you.
These newer drugs specifically target and block the actionable mutations /pathways which are helping tumor cells to grow. Immunotherapy drugs enhance the body immune system which takes care of cancer cell growth and their spread to other parts of the body.
Are there any side-effects of drugs for cancer?
The side effect profile of immunotherapy drugs is totally different hence discussion with your oncologist before initiating these therapies and also during treatment would help to early identification and timely use of treatment to reduce the side effects. Don’t get bogged down if you suffer from it. Instead, seek immediate medical attention and you will surely be able to deal with it. People are living longer with current modalities of treatment even in advanced stages of cancers.
Kidney cancer might not be as common as other cancers but that doesn’t hide its existence. There are several subtypes of renal cancer that can sometimes go undiagnosed until the patient reaches a critical stage. Thus, it is very important to identify the symptoms and take the necessary action to treat it.
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