Kidney cancer - what you need to know

Doctor and patient

Also known as renal cancer, kidney cancer is the eighth most-common type of the disease among adults in the UK, with more than 9,000 people diagnosed each year. As with any cancer, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment, so if you are worried, here are the signs and symptoms to watch for, as well as what to expect should you develop the disease.

In the early stages, kidney cancer typically does not cause symptoms, and according to the NHS, around half of all cases are detected via a routine ultrasound scan. It is most-commonly diagnosed in those over the age of 40.

However, as the cancer progresses to the mid or advanced stage, common symptoms include blood in the urine or a change of colour that causes the urine to become reddish or dark brown. A persistent pain in the side, usually just below the ribs may also occur, and a lump may appear in the side or abdomen. Less common symptoms include unexplained weight loss or fever, swelling of the veins in the testicles for men, or otherwise in the ankles or legs, and anaemia or high blood pressure.

Although blood in the urine could also be a sign of a kidney or bladder stone, if you notice any of the above symptoms, it is wise to seek advice from your GP.

Diagnosis and treatment
If you visit your doctor after noticing blood in your urine, they will usually take a blood test and a urine sample to help rule out other possible causes. Should your GP believe that your symptoms require further assessment, you will likely be referred to a urologist.

The most common methods of testing for kidney cancer is an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan, though a biopsy may be carried out to allow the specialist to test tissue. Testing will usually determine whether cancer is present and what stage it has reached, and whether it has spread to another area of the body.

What course of treatment you are prescribed will depend upon the stage of the cancer. If it remains in the kidney, it can usually be cured by removing all or part of the kidney. Where this is not possible, several other treatments may be offered, including arterial embolisation, where blood flow to the tumour is blocked, or radiotherapy. Because kidney cancer is less responsive to chemotherapy than other types of the disease, there are a number of other specialist treatments available, such as cryotherapy, which kills the cancerous cells by freezing them, radio frequency ablation, which uses heat generated by radio waves to kill the cells, or targeted therapies, medicines that are designed to target and block the cancer cells growth.

Though experts are not entirely sure what causes kidney cancer, there are certain factors that are thought to increase your risk of developing the disease, most notably smoking and obesity, so a balanced diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight are advised, and if you're a smoker, you are twice as likely to get kidney cancer, so quitting is a must.

A family history of the disease would also put you more at risk, particularly if a sibling is a sufferer, and the cancer is more prevalent amongst men and black people. Exposure to chemicals such as asbestos, cadmium and some herbicides is also known to increase the risk, as is the prolonged use of some painkillers.

Though some will, of course, remain free of cancer despite the above, it is always wise to get regular exercise, eat healthily, and steer clear of cigarettes and cigars to keep your risk at a minimum.

Have you been diagnosed with cancer of the kidney? What advice would you give to others? Leave your comments below...
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