The National Kidney Foundation has designated March as National Kidney Month. The decision was a direct response to the increase in chronic kidney disease. Although more people are now educated about controlling kidney disease, few are aware that they can also limit their risk of renal cancer. Also called kidney cancer, renal cancer can spread throughout the body.
The Kidneys’ Function
The kidneys are a pair of fist-sized organs on either side of the spine. Located in the lower abdomen, they filter excess waste and water from our blood. The kidneys are part of the urinary tract, so the materials they filter are excreted from the body in our urine. On top of each kidney is an adrenal gland. Both the gland and the kidney are wrapped in a layer of fatty tissue and an outer layer of fibrous tissue.
Renal Cell Cancer
The most common form of renal cancer, renal cell cancer is also sometimes called renal adenocarcinoma or hypernephroma. Renal cell cancer usually starts in only one kidney, but can spread to the other kidney or the lymph nodes, along with the bones, lungs, or liver.
Even when renal cell cancer has spread to another organ, the malignant cells are still renal cancer cells. Doctors may refer to these cancerous spots as “distant tumors.” The distant tumors are treated in the same way as the original tumor or cancer.
Diagnosing Renal Cancer
Like any health condition, doctors generally use a variety of tools to diagnose renal cancer:
· Physical examination: The doctor may collect blood or urine samples to look for signs of cancerous cells.
· An Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP) allows the physician to observe the kidneys, urinary tract, and bladder.
· The doctor may also recommend a CT/CAT scan, which shows kidney tumors using a dye injected into the blood.
· An ultrasound can detect masses like tumors and cysts using sound waves.
· The last step in diagnosis is usually a biopsy. The doctor extracts a small amount of abnormal tissue. A pathologist examines the sample to determine whether cancer cells are present.
Treating Renal Cancer
Following diagnosis, the doctor must evaluate the stage of the cancer. The stage indicates how far the disease has progressed. For example, Stage I renal cancer is relatively small and has not spread beyond the kidney. On the other hand, Stage IV cancer is the most severe. It has spread beyond the kidney to either lymph nodes or other organs.
The lower the stage, the less aggressively the cancer must be treated. Usually doctors will remove part or all of the infected kidney. If the cancer has spread, chemotherapy or radiation treatment may be necessary.
Patients can decrease their risk for kidney cancer by practicing good personal health. Smoking, obesity and high blood pressure all increase people’s risk of developing the condition. Other factors include exposure to asbestos, cadmium and other industrial chemicals. Limiting exposure can significantly decrease the likelihood of renal cancer.