What it is

Kidney cancer is a cancer of the urinary tract that starts in the kidneys, the two organs that filter blood and create urine. When healthy cells in one or both kidneys mutate and grow out of control, a tumor is formed. There are several types of kidney cancer, but renal cell carcinoma is the most common.

Risk factors

Men, African-Americans and people older than 50 have a higher chance of developing kidney cancer. Smoking doubles the risk. Other risk factors include chronic high blood pressure, obesity, exposure to certain chemicals, long-term dialysis, and a family history of kidney cancer.

What to look for

Kidney cancer is often detected in an x-ray or ultrasound done for another purpose and may be symptomless in the early stages. Indications of kidney cancer, such as fatigue or weight loss, abdominal pain, blood in the urine, low blood levels, or a lump in the abdomen, may have causes other than cancer.

Active Surveillance — This treatment option is for small, non-aggressive kidney tumors that can be watched closely without removal or surgical intervention. This decision is often based on the size and growth of the tumor, or the location of the tumor on the kidney. During active surveillance, if the tumor grows significantly or show signs of changing, the tumor can still be treated.

 

Biopsy-directed Management — A tumor biopsy helps guide treatment decisions. While biopsy is not routinely used with kidney tumors, it helps a urologist decide whether treatment or active surveillance is best.

Ablation — A needle is inserted into the tumor to either heat or freeze cancer cells and leave the rest of the kidney intact. This may be done either as an outpatient procedure or overnight. Ablation patients will be closely monitored with imaging to ensure the treatment is successful long-term.

Partial Nephrectomy — The tumor is surgically removed, not the entire kidney. This procedure can be performed with either standard surgical techniques or with the assistance of the DaVinci surgical robot. Robotic surgery is less invasive, decreasing the length of hospital stay needed and pain experienced.

Radical Nephrectomy — This is the surgical removal of the entire kidney containing the tumor. This approach is recommended if the cancerous kidney has poor function, the tumor is in a difficult-to-treat location, the tumor is so large that removing it would result in poor kidney function, or concern about likely recurrence of cancer within the kidney. Radical nephrectomy may be performed with standard open surgery or laparoscopically.

Targeted Drug Therapy ‑ This option may be indicated for cancer that is especially aggressive or has already spread to other parts of the body. The medication works by stopping the growth of blood vessels that nourish the cancer.