Kidney Cancer Awareness: Know All About Renal Cancer
Kidney cancer usually begins as a tumor within the kidney. As these tumors grow larger, they affect the ability of kidneys to filter blood.
Kidney cancer is also known as renal cancer
- Kidney cancer awareness day is observed on 17 June
- Kidney cancer usually begins as a tumor within the kidney
- Kidney cancer patients are asymptomatic during early stages
Kidney cancer (or renal cancer) is one of the major global health problem accounting for approximately 180,000 deaths globally annually, it is the 13th most prevalent type of cancer worldwide. As per the data from the latest National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP), around 18000 cases were diagnosed in India in 2020. Every year, June 17 is observed as World Kidney Cancer Day to raise awareness about the disease. With the rise in cases of kidney cancer in India, there is an utmost need to check up on one's kidney health.
About Kidney Cancer
The most common type of kidney cancer is Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC). Located above the waist, one either sides of the spine, these bean-shaped organs are responsible for filtering blood to remove excess water and waste from the body. Kidneys also help to control blood pressure to produce red blood cells (RBCs) and keep the bones healthy.
Kidney cancer usually begins as a tumor within the kidney. As these tumors grow larger, they affect the ability of kidneys to filter blood. Many people may not be aware of the fact that kidney cancer incidence also differs according to sex, and is more common in men than women. In India, the cumulative risk of developing Kidney cancer in males is 1 in 442 and 1 in 620 in females.
Signs and Symptoms
Most of the kidney cancer patients are asymptomatic during early stages. Patients that show symptoms during diagnosis are usually found to have advanced kidney cancer. A vast majority of the kidney tumors, these days, are diagnosed incidentally wherein patients visit their doctors for unrelated ailments. On getting an ultrasound test or a computerized tomography (CT) scan the kidney tumors are detected, thus often leading to an accidental discovery of kidney cancers.
Some risk factors include smoking, obesity, hypertension, family history of kidney cancers or inheritable syndromes and exposure to radiation. It is not possible to see or feel it the tumor in the early stages, but as the tumor grows, the symptoms may begin to appear. These can include blood in the urine, a mass or lump in the kidney area (side or back), high blood pressure, loss of appetite, weight loss and tiredness.
If one is suffering from health concerns which could potentially be a sign of kidney cancer, an oncologist or an urologist may prescribe some tests which can include:
Blood test to check the complete blood counts (CBC) and renal function tests (RFT)
Urine test to check for blood in urine
Imaging tests such as computerized tomography (CT) scans or Positron Computed Tomography (PET) scan to narrow down the diagnosis and look for the extent of involvement of the cancer
Biopsy of the mass
Also read: 5 Golden Rules To Keep Your Kidneys Healthy
While majority of the kidney cancers are sporadic, there are also inheritable forms of kidney cancer. Therefore, some patients may be suited for genetic counselling. There are a variety of treatment options available for the management of kidney cancer, depending on the tumor, some of which are:
Surgery - For most patients in early stages of kidney cancer, surgery is the standard procedure that is offered. The aim of surgery is to remove the tumour while preserving normal kidney function. Depending on the size of the tumor, and what stage it is at, the doctor recommends whether a partial removal will work or if the entire affected kidney must be removed.
When cancer spreads beyond the kidney like to lungs, bones or elsewhere, the treatment would be mainly targeted therapy or immunotherapy. The treatment for advanced kidney cancer has significantly evolved over the decade with several newer drugs improving the survival and quality of life in these patients.
Targeted therapy - Through targeted therapy, cancer cells are targeted using a class of medications that are developed to prevent cancer from growing and spreading. This shrinks the tumor without causing damage to the healthy and normal cells around it.
Immunotherapy - Immunotherapy treatment doesn't affect the tumor cell directly. Instead it activates the body's own immune system to recognise and fight the cancer cells. Immunotherapy is also growing in acceptance since it can work on many different types of cancer. Compared to other drugs given for kidney cancer treatment, immunotherapy drugs have fewer side effects in a majority of patients, though serious side effects may occur in a minority.
Radiation therapy - This modality is also used in certain situations to give additional local control.
At times, Doctors recommend using a combination of the above treatment modalities to improve the overall outcome.
Today, it has become imperative to spread awareness and initiate conversations about kidney cancer. There are also robust patient assistance programs in place for expensive treatments including immunotherapy and targeted therapy. It must be noted if detected early, kidney cancer is quite treatable. Recent medical advancements are helping more patients live longer with good quality lives.
(Dr. Vishwanath Sathyanarayanan is a Consultant Medical Oncology at Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru)
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