March is kidney cancer awareness month. So what is the role of our kidneys? The kidneys are bean shaped organs located on each side of the mid back. The kidneys are retroperitoneal organs that lie behind the peritoneum that lines the abdominal cavity. The main function of the kidneys are to filter the blood and get rid of excess water and waste in the urine. However, did you know that your kidneys are not located in the same area? The left kidney is located slightly more superior than the right kidney due to the larger size of the liver on the right side of the body. Every day the kidneys process about 200 quarts of blood to sift out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water.
How common is kidney cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, for 2017:
· 63,990 new cases will occur
· 14,400 people will die from this disease
· Average age diagnosed at 64
· Uncommon in people younger than 45
· Among the 10 most common cancers in men and women
· Men at greater risk than women
Kidney cancer is not easily detected. Typically the cancer is found incidentally on imaging testing. Renal cell cancer makes up 90% of all kidney cancers. A biopsy is not always needed to confirm a renal cell cancer. The diagnosis is confirmed when the tumor or kidney is removed. Some signs and symptoms to watch for include: blood in urine, constant pain in sides of mid back, palpable mass in abdomen or side of back, fever, weight loss, and fatigue are some of the most common signs.
There are tests used to help diagnose kidney cancer including a physical exam, urine tests, CT, MRI, and ultrasound. Once kidney cancer has been confirmed there are many treatment options available.
· Radical nephrectomy: removal of entire kidney and surrounding tissues
· Partial nephrectomy: most common treatment which removes part of the kidney
· Radiofrequency ablation: destroys cancer by burning
· Cryoablation: destroys cancer by freezing
Staging for kidney cancer can be from a local stage 1 to advanced stage IV. Stage 1 (smaller than 7cm) with no spread to outside kidney. Stage IV the tumor has spread to outer layers of the kidney, to distant lymph nodes, or other organs.
Typically, localized renal cell cancer requires no further treatment after surgery. Whereas, advanced cancer treatment can include surgery with immunotherapy, anti-angiogenic therapy, and targeted therapy. Recurrence may recur locally or in other parts of the body such as the lung or bones. A recurrence is treated with systemic therapy, or local therapy such as surgery to remove areas of the metastatic disease. The American Cancer Society indicates that more than 50% of patients with early stage renal cell cancer are cured. With a five year survival rate for stage 1 disease is 90%.
What can you do to reduce your risk of developing kidney cancer? The most important is stop smoking, second maintain a healthy weight, and control high blood pressure.