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Dr. Johanna

Kidney Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors and Treatments

What is Kidney Cancer?kidneys

The kidneys are bean-shaped organs the size of large oranges that sit on the top part of the abdomen, above the intestines and either side of the spine.

Blood passes through the renal artery to the kidneys where it filters out water and other waste materials to form urine. This is then sent to the bladder via tubes called ureters. Urine is then passed via the urethra when we go to the toilet.

The blood that has been filtered is sent back to the heart where it is recirculated throughout the body.

Kidney cancer is where the cells of the kidney become malignant (cancerous) and grow out of control forming a tumor. The most common form of kidney cancer is Renal Cell Carcinoma (also sometimes referred to as Renal Adenocarcinoma) where cancer begins in the tiny tubes (tubules) inside the kidney. RCC accounts for over 80% of kidney cancers.

A less common form of kidney cancer is Transitional Cell Cancer (TCC), which develops in the central part of the kidney called the Renal Pelvis. This is the area of the kidney where the urine is collected before being passed through the ureter to the bladder.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

In the early stages, there are generally very few symptoms. If a tumor is larger or if at a later stage, the following symptoms may be experienced:-

  • Blood in the urine
  • A persistent pain in the side/back below the ribs
  • A mass, lump or swelling in the kidney region
  • Fatigue
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • High temperature

Causes and Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

There are a number of risk factors associated with this form of cancer. Please remember that having one or more of the risk factors below does not necessarily mean you will get the disease.

The most common risk factors for kidney cancer are:-

  • Smoking – Those who use tobacco are more at risk of developing this particular form of cancer. Smokers are over 50% more likely to get kidney cancer than a non-smoker.
  • Obesity – Those who are overweight are more at risk, especially in developing Renal Cell Carcinoma RCC.
  • Workplace Exposure – Some studies have suggested that there is a link between exposure to workplace substances such as cadmium, herbicides and some solvents that contain Trichloroethylene.
  • Age – Kidney cancer is more common in older people.
  • Family History and Genetics – Studies suggest that brothers and sisters of those with kidney cancer are far more likely to develop the disease. There are also a number of inherited conditions that increase the risk such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, papillary renal cell carcinoma, leiomyoma-renal cell carcinoma, Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome, Familial renal cancer and renal oncocytoma.
  • High Blood Pressure – Those with high blood pressure are more at risk of getting kidney cancer, although it is unclear as to whether the medications that are used to treat it or the high blood pressure itself is the root cause.
  • Gender – Men are twice as likely to develop Renal Cell Carcinoma than women.

5 Year Survival Rates

The figures below give us an indication of the number of patients that lived for at least 5 years after being diagnosed with kidney cancer.

Stage 1 – 81%
Stage 2 – 74%
Stage 3 – 53%
Stage 4 – 8%

These statistics should only be used as a guide because patients respond differently to both conventional and complementary treatments. As with any cancer, the sooner that it is discovered and treated the better the outlook.

Recommended Treatment for Kidney Cancer

For further information on available treatments, please see our recommended kidney cancer treatment page.

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