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It has been estimated by the American Cancer Society that about 51,000 American individuals are diagnosed with kidney cancer every year. The National Cancer Institute has estimated that about 50,000 new cases of kidney cancer would be diagnosed in 2009.

What is kidney cancer?

An uncontrolled and abnormal growth of the cells and tissues of the kidneys is known as kidney cancer.  Kidneys are small bean shaped organs located in the abdomen that are involved in absorption of essential nutrients and formation of urine. The kidney is made up of numerous cells and tissues and different types of cancers are noted based on the region of the kidney affected.

In general, renal cell carcinoma is the most commonly noted kidney cancer in adults while Wilm tumor is the common kidney cancer noted in children. Adult men between the age group of 50 and 70 years are more commonly affected by renal cell carcinoma. Wilms tumor rarely occurs in adults and commonly affects children below 5 years of age.

The prognosis of kidney cancer depends upon the severity of the cancer and time of detection of cancer. Early detection and treatment of kidney cancer promises better prognosis.

Who is at an increased risk?

The exact cause for the occurrence of kidney cancer is not yet known. However, numerous factors have been proposed to increase the risk of kidney cancer in susceptible individuals.

Renal cell carcinoma is commonly noted in adult men above the age of 50 years while women are less commonly affected. The risk of kidney cancer is increased in individuals who smoke wherein the risk increases progressively with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and duration of the habit.

Obese individuals are at a higher risk of developing kidney cancer when compared to individuals with normal or average weights. High blood pressure has also been linked to kidney cancer in some instances. Exposure to some cancer causing chemicals such as asbestos and cadmium was also noted to increase the risk of occurrence of kidney cancers in adults.

Individuals undergoing long-term treatment for other kidney disorders such as kidney failures were noted to develop kidney cancer at a higher rate than normal individuals. Certain procedures such as dialysis (a process of blood purification with the use of specialized equipments) and use of medications known as immunosuppressants in individuals suffering from kidney failures tend to increase the risk of kidney cancer.

Heredity has also been proposed as a risk factor, wherein the risk of kidney cancer increases if any of your family members is having kidney cancer. Other hereditary disorders such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease are noted to affect the kidneys along with other organs.

In case of children no such specific risk factors have been noted. However, Wilms tumor is noted to occur more frequently in children with other developmental disorders such as missing a portion of the eye, defects of the kidneys, and abnormal enlargement of one side of the body.

What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is generally not associated with any symptoms or signs in its earlier stages and may be diagnosed while performing some routine testing procedures. Most of the symptoms and signs of kidney cancer are noted in the advanced stages of kidney cancer. Children and adults with kidney cancer appear to have similar signs and symptoms.

Pain is a common symptom of kidney cancer and it may be noted in the abdominal region, the flanks (portion of the body between the lowest rib and the hip) and the back. The pain usually persists for a long time and does not subside by itself. The urine that you pass may be darker than usual or there may be traces of blood in the urine.

You tend to lose a lot of weight within a short duration of time and may look pale, thin and malnourished. Presence of varicocele (enlarged vein/blood vessel) near the testicles, intermittent fever and generalized tiredness is also noted in some instances.

In some rare instances kidney cancer may be associated with intolerance to cold, constipation and vision abnormalities.

In advanced cases where other organs are also involved, symptoms specific to the organ involved may also accompany these symptoms of kidney cancer.

The diagnosis of kidney cancer is based on the physical examination and different investigations such as ultrasound examination, CT scan, biopsy, blood tests, urine tests, X-rays and cystoscopy.

How is kidney cancer treated?

Surgery is the most commonly used option to treat kidney cancer. This may involve removal of only the cancerous parts of the kidney or removal of the complete kidney if the cancer is widespread. In some advanced cases, the neighboring structures of the kidney may also have to be removed owing to the spread of cancer to these tissues. Other surgical methods that are also employed in certain instances include embolisation and cryotherapy procedures. 

Radiation therapy may not be effective in treating all cases of kidney cancer. It may sometimes be advised when surgery is not possible or in order to shrink the size of the cancerous growth before surgical removal.

Chemotherapy is also not effective in treating individuals with renal cell carcinoma. The drugs itself may be quite toxic for the individual being treated for kidney cancers. Newer drugs known as biologic drugs are being studied extensively for their effect on cancer cells.   

The outcome of the treatment for kidney cancer is dependent upon the stage and severity of the cancer. Early stages with minimal involvement of the kidney has better prognosis than advanced stages of cancer that have spread to the adjacent structures. 

How can kidney cancer be prevented?

The risk of developing kidney cancer can be decreased to a certain extent by following a healthy lifestyle.

  • Quit smoking completely. It further reduces the risk of other cancers and many other disorders. 
  • Eat healthy food to ensure your body receives all the essential nutrients. 
  • Reduce your body weight if you are obese or overweight. 
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Take care of your blood pressure and see to it that it is under control. 
  • Follow the advice of the doctor regarding care of high blood pressure. Meet a doctor immediately if you experience any of the symptoms or signs mentioned above.

  • Photo by shutterstock.com
  • www.mayoclinic.com/health/kidney-cancer/ds00360
  • www.medicinenet.com/kidney_cancer/article.htm
  • www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/kidney
  • www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000516.htm
  • www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001575.htm
  • www.cancer.org/docroot/cri/content/cri_2_4_1x_what_is_kidney_cancer_22.asp?sitearea=cri
  • www.mayoclinic.com/health/kidney-cancer/DS00360

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