Renal cell cancer (also called kidney cancer or renal adenocarcinoma) is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells are found in the lining of tubules (very small tubes) in the kidney. There are 2 kidneys, one on each side of the backbone, above the waist. The tiny tubules in the kidneys filter and clean the blood, taking out waste products and making urine. The urine passes from each kidney into the bladder through a long tube called a ureter. The bladder stores the urine until it is passed from the body.
Possible signs of renal cell cancer include blood in the urine and a lump in the abdomen. These and other symptoms may be caused by renal cell cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. There may be no symptoms in the early stages. Symptoms may appear as the tumor grows. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
- Blood in the urine.
- A lump in the abdomen.
- A pain in the side that doesn't go away.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss for no known reason.
Stages of Kidney Cancer
In stage I, the tumor is 7 centimeters or smaller and is found only in the kidney.
In stage II, the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters and is found only in the kidney.
In stage III, cancer is found:
- in the kidney and in 1 nearby lymph node; or
- in an adrenal gland or in the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney, and may be found in 1 nearby lymph node; or
- in the main blood vessels of the kidney and may be found in 1 nearby lymph node.
In stage IV, cancer has spread:
- beyond the layer of fatty tissue around the kidney and may be found in 1 nearby lymph node; or
- to 2 or more nearby lymph nodes; or
- to other organs, such as the bowel, pancreas, or lungs, and may be found in nearby lymph nodes.
Surgery to remove part or all of the kidney is often used to treat renal cell cancer. The following types of surgery may be used:
Partial nephrectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the cancer within the kidney and some of the tissue around it. A partial nephrectomy may be done to prevent loss of kidney function when the other kidney is damaged or has already been removed.
Simple nephrectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the kidney only.
Radical nephrectomy: A surgical procedure to remove the kidney, the adrenal gland, surrounding tissue, and, usually, nearby lymph nodes.
A person can live with part of 1 working kidney, but if both kidneys are removed or not working, the person will need dialysis (a procedure to clean the blood using a machine outside of the body) or a kidney transplant (replacement with a healthy donated kidney). A kidney transplant may be done when the disease is in the kidney only and a donated kidney can be found. If the patient has to wait for a donated kidney, other treatment is given as needed.
When surgery to remove the cancer is not possible, a treatment called arterial embolization may be used to shrink the tumor. A small incision is made and a catheter (thin tube) is inserted into the main blood vessel that flows to the kidney. Small pieces of a special gelatin sponge are injected through the catheter into the blood vessel. The sponges block the blood flow to the kidney and prevent the cancer cells from getting oxygen and other substances they need to grow.
Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to increase the chances of a cure, is called adjuvant therapy.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
For more information on Kidney Cancer, please visit the National Cancer Institute website.