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Most tumors of the kidney are malignant (cancerous), but some are benign (non-cancerous)

Kidney cancer originates in the kidneys. Kidneys filter the blood and remove waste products from the body. Kidneys also help in regulation of electrolytes, acid-base balance, and blood pressure. Kidneys excrete urine into the uterus, which empties into the bladder.

Kidney diseases include nephritic and nephrotic syndromes, renal cysts, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, urinary tract infection, nephrolithiasis, and urinary tract obstruction. Renal cell carcinoma is a common type of kidney cancer.

Symptoms

Kidney cancer shows no signs and symptoms in its early stages. It is marked by blood in the urine (pink, red or cola coloured), back pain, weight loss, fatigue and intermittent fever. While doing CT scan of the kidneys the doctor may identify the presence of cancer cells, or else it is very difficult to trace and identify kidney cancer.

Causes

Kidney cancer occurs when kidney cells acquire mutations, start growing and dividing rapidly. The cancerous kidney cells break off and spread to other parts of the body, a condition referred to as metastasize.

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Risk factors

Kidney cancer may be an outcome of old age, smoking, obesity, hypertension, kidney failure and inherited syndromes. The risk of kidney cancer is more in old age. The risk of kidney cancer is more in those who smoke than those who do not smoke. When one quits smoking the risk of kidney cancer is reduced. People who are obese are at risk of kidney cancer.

People who are overweight should avail continuous health checks to identify cancer at its early stages and avail the best possible treatment. High BP patients are increasingly under the risk of kidney cancer. Those undergoing dialysis are also at greater risk of developing kidney cancer. Kippel-Lindau disease and Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome come under the category of inherited syndromes.

Tests and Diagnosis

The doctor may look for all or any one symptom of kidney cancer. Later, may recommend for blood and urine test, imaging tests as well as biopsy of the kidney tissue. The imaging tests include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A biopsy of the kidney tissues helps in identifying the cancerous cells.

The doctor usually aims to identify the stage of kidney cancer, which is primary for the right course of treatment. Stage one shows small cancer tumour, with cancer cells confined to the kidney. Stage two, shows bigger cancer tumour which is still confined to the kidney. Stage three, cancerous cells spread from the kidney to nearby lymph node. Stage four, cancer spreads to outside the kidney and covers bones, liver or lungs.

Treatments and drugs

The treatment of kidney cancer includes surgery, freezing cancer cells (cryoablation), heating cancer cells (radiofrequency ablation), biological therapy and targeted therapy. Removing the affected part of the kidney is also called as nephrectomy.

This process involves usage of a laparoscope, and making small incisions to insert the video camera and tiny surgical tools. This surgery is done either manually or robotically. The surgeon guides the robot in using the surgical tools and to perform the operation.

Nephron-sparing surgery or partial nephrectomy involves removal of the tumor and a small margin of healthy tissue that surrounds it. During the cryoablation process a needle guided by X-rays is inserted through the skin. The gas coming from the needle cools/freezes the cancer cells.

In the radiofrequency ablation process, electric current is sent through the needle, which heats up or burns the cancer cells. Radiation therapy may or not go with targeted therapy (cancer drugs). Radiation therapy uses high energy beams viz. X-rays to kill cancer cells.