Kidneys are the body’s unsung heroes: they cleanse the blood of excess waste and help stabilize blood pressure and water balance. Like every organ, kidneys are also vulnerable to disease such as cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, kidney cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers among men and women in the United States, with about 62,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Many of these cases are discovered incidentally when a patient is being evaluated for another health problem. This is because kidney cancer rarely causes symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage.
The most common form of cancer is renal cell carcinoma, which forms in the cells that line the tubules of the kidney. Another variation is transitional cell carcinoma, which can form in the cells that line the renal pelvis, ureter or bladder.
Key risk factors for kidney cancer are smoking, obesity and exposure to workplace chemicals, making the disease almost twice as prevalent in men as women. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, a family history of kidney cancer and certain inherited genetic conditions.
One of the chief symptoms of kidney cancer is blood in the urine, which often times isn’t visible to the naked eye. Other symptoms include persistent pain in the side, a lump or mass in the side or the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fever and fatigue.
Evaluation may include urinalysis, blood tests, CT scan, MRI or ultrasounds. In order to confirm the diagnosis, sometimes a biopsy (a small tissue sample) of the suspicious area of the kidney is taken and then examined by a pathologist.
Treatment often depends on the type, location and stage of the disease. Surgery to remove the tumor is usually the first choice of treatment, and is increasingly performed using minimally invasive techniques. Some patients with smaller tumors may not need to have their tumor removed; instead, it can be treated with cryosurgery, a minimally invasive technique in which extreme cold is used to destroy the tumor.
If a patient is not a candidate for surgery or cryosurgery, the cancer may be treated with radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy (substances designed to boost or restore the natural defenses against the cancer), targeted therapies (drugs that take aim at blocking specific pathways active in the progression of kidney cancer) or a combination of these treatments.
As with many cancers, you can take steps to reduce risk of kidney cancer by staying at a healthy weight, not smoking, avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Be sure to get checked by your doctor if any symptoms appear.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with kidney cancer, it is important to find a cancer center that has expertise in the management of kidney cancer, with specific focus on organ preservation and reconstructive surgery to maximize quality of life.
NewYork-Presbyterian Cancer Centers provide high-quality, comprehensive cancer care at convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area, Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley. The hospital’s Cancer Centers provide a comprehensive program of cancer services in state-of-the-art, comfortable environments. Board certified medical, surgical and radiation oncologists provide each patient with an individualized plan of care. To find a location in your area visit nyp.org/cancerlocations.
NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest and most comprehensive hospitals in the nation, ranked New York’s No. 1 hospital for the 16th consecutive year, and No. 6 in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report. Affiliated with two academic medical colleges – Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian brings together internationally recognized researchers and clinicians to develop and implement the latest approaches for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in New York State. NewYork-Presbyterian provides comprehensive cancer care at all of our locations across the New York Metro area including Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Learn more at nyp.org/cancer.