About 65,000 cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. This includes renal cell carcinoma (cancer in the lining of structures that filter blood and remove waste products) and renal pelvis carcinoma (cancer that forms in the center of the kidney where urine collects.)
Kidney cancer in early stages usually does not cause any symptoms, but more advanced cancer might. Some possible symptoms of kidney cancer include:
- Blood in the urine
- Low back pain on one side
- A lump on the side or lower back
- Weight loss not caused by dieting
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
These symptoms may be signs of cancer, but can also be caused by other conditions. For accurate evaluation, you must consult a doctor.
Depending on the stage and location of the kidney tumor and other factors, the cancer and some surrounding tissue may be excised or the entire kidney may be removed. Surgery may also include removal of the adrenal gland (the small gland on top of each kidney) and fatty tissue around the kidney.
In most cases, removal of part or the entire kidney can be done with minimally invasive techniques, using small incisions with tools and cameras inserted into the body, all controlled by the surgeon (laparoscopic and robotic techniques). These techniques using smaller incisions lead to less recovery time and a lower risk of complications after surgery. Laparoscopic and robotic techniques for kidney surgery require special training, which we are proud to offer through The Urology and Prostate Institute with Dr. Micheal Nazmy.
This fairly new, minimally-invasive treatment (also called cryosurgery or cryoablation) can treat kidney cancer by freezing it. Extremely cold gases are introduced into the tumor via needles while the patient is anesthetized. This treatment is generally reserved for patients who have slightly higher surgical risk than others due to their age or other medical problems.
The radiation oncologist, guided by ultrasound or CT scans, introduces a needle probe into the tumor. High-energy radio waves are passed through the probe, which heats the tumor and destroys the cancer cells. Studies have shown that this type of therapy has slightly less cancer control ability than cryotherapy, and is reserved for patients who have even higher surgical risk than other patients recommended to undergo cryotherapy.
Material is injected into the renal artery that feeds the cancerous kidney. This blocks the blood supply and kills the kidney and the cancer. This uncommon procedure may be performed before nephrectomy (removal of the kidney) because it reduces bleeding during surgery.
Kidney cancers do not respond well to radiation, so radiation therapy is more often used to reduce symptoms such as pain or bleeding.
Kidney cancer is resistant to cancer drugs, so chemotherapy is not a standard treatment for this disease.
Recently-developed targeted drugs work differently from standard chemotherapy, which is not very effective in treating kidney cancer. Some promising new therapies block growth of new blood vessels that nourish tumors or target other growth factors.
Immunotherapy strengthens the body’s immune system, helping it resist or destroy cancer cells. The primary immunotherapy drugs used against kidney cancer are cytokines, proteins that activate the immune system. They can reduce the size of kidney tumors by more than half in 10% to 20% of patients.
Medical centers, university hospitals, and research institutions across the nation and the world are working on improved kidney cancer treatment, and ways to detect and diagnose it.
Researchers are studying several genes that may change normal kidney cells into cancerous cells. Understanding this function may lead to earlier detection and more effective treatment therapies.
High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU)
This fairly new technique is used to treat other cancers and is being studied for efficacy against kidney cancer. It uses highly focused ultrasound beams targeted from outside the body to destroy tumors.
Ablation with cryotherapy or radiofrequency ablation
Techniques currently used to treat small kidney cancers. Research seeks to determine if they can be effective in the long term and how they can be refined.
Vaccines designed to boost the body’s natural immune response to kidney cancer cells are being tested. The goal is development of a vaccine that treats, rather than prevents, kidney cancer. Combining vaccines with targeted agents is also being studied.
Bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant
This developing therapy uses a compatible donor’s stem cells harvested from their blood or bone marrow. The stem cells are given to the cancer patient to help build a new immune system that does a better job of fighting the kidney cancer.