Kidney cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the kidneys. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, located just above the waist, on each side of the spine. Their main function is to filter the blood and produce urine by which the body rids itself of waste products and excess water.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body (in this case kidney cells) divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.
There are two main types of kidney cancer: Wilms tumor, which occurs predominantly in children, and renal cell carcinoma in adults. The cells that line the ureter may also give rise to transitional cell cancer, and the connective tissues of the kidney may produce sarcomas, which are rare.
Cancer Cell Growth
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A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for kidney cancer include:
Symptoms may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include:
Once kidney cancer is found, staging tests are performed. The purpose of these tests is to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. Treatment depends on the stage.
Surgery is the most important component of any curative approach to kidney cancer. There is some information suggesting immunotherapies (interleukin or interferon) may be of some benefit. Radiation can be used to treat kidney cancer that has spread to the lung, bones, or brain, but it is not considered curative.
This involves the removal of a cancerous tumor, nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. Surgeries to treat kidney cancer include:
This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be:
This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells but also some healthy cells.
This procedure involves the use of drugs like interleukin-2 and interferon alpha to help the immune system fight and destroy cancer cells.
Targeted therapy includes using drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Examples include sunitinib (Sutent) and sorafenib (Nexavar). These medicines have been shown to increase the survival rate in people with kidney cancer. Another class of drugs called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors may also help people with kidney cancer live longer. Temsirolimus (Torisol) is an example of this type of drug.
These medicines may be prescribed to adults with advanced kidney cancer:
American Cancer Society
The Kidney Cancer Association
Canadian Cancer Society
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
All about kidney cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/kidneycancer/index. Accessed July 1, 2009.
Berkow R, Beers MH. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster; 2000.
Cashen A, Wildes T. The Washington Manual: Hematology and Oncology Subspeciality Consult. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008.
Kidney (renal cell) cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/kidney. Accessed July 1, 2009.
Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated July 14, 2010. Accessed July 15, 2010.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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