The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer, also called renal cell carcinoma, occurs when cancer forms in the kidneys due to the rapid growth of cancerous cells.

Demographically, the average age of diagnosis is 64 years. Approximately 62,000 people each year are diagnosed with this disease and although it affects both sexes, it is more common in men.

Now, for the questions – below we’re answering some of the top questions about the causes and treatment of kidney cancer.

1. What causes kidney cancer?

Cigarette smoking is the most common causative factor for the development of kidney cancer. Approximately 70% to 80% of kidney cancer patients have a history of smoking.  Other risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, and more rare genetic conditions like von Hippel-Lindau disease.

2. How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

Patients most commonly come to the doctor with blood in their urine, either that they see themselves or detected microscopically.

The doctor then will order an imaging test of the kidneys, usually a CT scan. The CT scan is quite accurate in detecting even small kidney cancers. Sometimes, if there is a question about the diagnosis, an MRI scan can be performed.

3. How is kidney cancer treated?

Treatment depends greatly on the stage of cancer. In some cases, if the cancer is small, it may be observed. However most of the time the kidney cancer is removed surgically.

If the tumor is under 5 cm in size, the tumor with a margin of normal kidney can be removed leaving a portion of the rest of the kidney. If it is greater than 5 cm, in most instances, the entire kidney will be removed surgically. This is usually done laparoscopically.  

More recently, we have begun treating some smaller kidney cancers with cryoablation. This can be done as an outpatient procedure using CT guidance. The results have been very encouraging. The patients avoid an incision and have very minimal discomfort.

4. What are the survival rates for kidney cancer?

This varies by stage but most kidney cancers are detected early as stage one or two. After appropriate therapy, we would expect cure rates of 85% to 95%.

For more advanced cancers, there are many new and promising immunologic and chemotherapeutic agents that have extended the survival significantly.

Again, treatment is most successful in the earlier stages of the disease so if you are experiencing blood in the urine or pain in your flank, it is best to consult your physician as soon as possible. Please contact our office if you have any questions or concerns.

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