Kidney cancer

Specialty of Medical oncology

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer, sometimes referred to as renal cancer, is a type of cancer affecting the kidneys which most commonly occurs in those over the age of 60. It is one of the commonest cancers in the UK. There are different types of kidney cancer:

Kidney cancers are graded on a scale of 1-4, as are many types of cancer. Cancers which are low on the scale grow slowly, while cancers on the higher end of the scale spread more quickly. This grading system helps the doctor decide on treatment and assess how the cancer will behave.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of kidney cancer are often difficult to detect at first, and kidney cancer is more often picked up during other routine testing. The main symptoms of kidney cancer are:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain or pressure in the side or back
  • A mass or a lump in the side or back (though this is often too small to detect)

Causes of kidney cancer or why it occurs

The most frequent risk factors that influence the development of kidney cancer are:

  • Smoking
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity, following a diet high in fats
  • Drinking (alcohol)
  • High blood pressure
  • Previous radiotherapy for cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Hysterectomy
  • Family history of kidney cancer

Can it be prevented?

Reducing some risk factors can help in the prevention of kidney cancer, such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Following a varied diet abundant in fruits and vegetables, and with a low fat content

What is the treatment?

Kidney cancer, if detected early, can be cured. Treatment and outlook of kidney cancer depends on the size of the tumour and how far it has spread in the body.

The cancer cells can also be treated through freezing or heating (cryotherapy, radiofrequency ablation), embolisation (where the blood supply to the tumour is cut off), radiotherapy, or biological therapies such as immunotherapy.

If the cancer is limited to the kidney and is still fairly small, surgery can cure it. If, on the other hand, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, treatment focusses on controlling it and preventing further spread.

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