Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, is the abnormal growth of cells in the kidney. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell cancer in which cells in the kidneys grow out of control and form a tumour.
Kidney cancer most commonly affects people between the ages of 65 and 74 and is twice as likely to occur in men than in women.
There are four types of kidney cancer:
- Renal cell carcinoma (RCC), or renal cell cancer, is the most common form of kidney cancer in adults. It makes up 85% of kidney cancers. This cancer begins in the cells that line the kidney tubules and typically develops as a tumour in one kidney, but it can affect both kidneys.
- Transitional cell carcinoma contributes to 6-7% of kidney cancers. This cancer begins in cells called the transitional cells, which make up the lining of the renal pelvis, ureters, bladder, and urethra. This area is known as the renal pelvis.
- Renal sarcoma is the least common form of kidney cancer, making up only 1% of kidney cancers. This cancer begins in the connective tissues of kidneys and can spread to nearby organs and bones if left untreated.
- Wilms tumour is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. It makes up 5% of kidney cancers and mostly affects children aged 3 to 4 years old. It becomes much less common after the age of 5.
The following risk factors put one at a higher risk of developing kidney cancer:
- Being overweight or obese
- High blood pressure
- Family history of kidney cancer
- Older age
- Treatment for kidney failure (dialysis)
- Having certain inherited genetic conditions
In the early stages of kidney cancer, there may not be any noticeable signs and symptoms.
A person with kidney cancer may or may not exhibit some of these signs and symptoms:
- Blood in the urine (haematuria)
- A lump or mass in the kidney area
- Lower back pain or flank pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
There are various methods to diagnose kidney cancer. The tests and procedures used to diagnose kidney cancer include:
- Blood tests check the number of each type of blood cell. It can show if there are too few red blood cells (anaemia) or if your kidney is not functioning well (observing the creatinine count).
- Urine tests (urinalysis) check to see if your urine contains blood (haematuria).
- Imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound provide an image of the inside of your body to visualise a kidney tumour or any abnormalities.
- Renal mass biopsy requires a small sample of your tissue to be removed. The sample will be viewed under a microscope to look for any cancer cells. This procedure may or may not be needed.
Learn more about the different types of screening and diagnostic procedures performed to diagnose kidney cancer.
Treatment of kidney cancer depends on several factors such as the stage and grade of the tumour, patient’s age, health condition, and patient preference.
The options include surgery, ablation, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy and occasionally chemotherapy.
- Surgery is the main choice for most stages of kidney cancer. Surgical operations used to remove the cancer include a partial nephrectomy (removing the tumour from the kidney) or a complete (radical) nephrectomy (removing the entire kidney and the surrounding tissue or lymph nodes).
- Ablation using heat and cold can be used to destroy cancer cells. This procedure is beneficial for people who cannot undergo surgery. Cryoablation uses cold gas to freeze the cancer cells, while radiofrequency ablation uses an electric current to heat and destroy the cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy may be recommended if the patient only has one kidney of if they are not eligible for surgery. It uses high-powered energy beams to kill cancer cells and sometimes to control or reduce symptoms of kidney cancer.
- Targeted drug therapy focuses on blocking certain characteristics of cancer cells which consequently stops the cancer growth.
- Immunotherapy uses certain medications to enhance and strengthen your own immune system to destroy cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy is not commonly used for kidney cancer treatment. However, it may be useful in certain situations and is only given after immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy.
Learn more about the different types of treatment technologies to treat kidney cancer.
While we may not be able to prevent kidney cancer completely, there are ways to reduce the risk of developing kidney cancer such as:
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Control certain conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Exercise and eat a healthy diet
As with other cancers, kidney cancer is most treatable when detected early. However, there are no recommended screening tests to detect early kidney cancer for people who are not at risk.
For people with a high risk of kidney cancer, imaging tests can often be used to detect small kidney cancers. Discuss with your doctor to understand if you would benefit from screening for kidney cancer.
Gleneagles Hospital works with oncologists to assist patients through cancer treatment. The caring and multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals are available for consultation and to provide the best care.