Kidney cancer: risk factors, symptoms, tests and stages

Kidney cancer: risk factors, symptoms, tests and stages

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Within this blog, we have already talked about many illnesses that are found in our kidneys. This time we are going to take a look at a very common cancer, easily manageable if detected early but deadly if not seen within the proper time.  We are talking about Kidney cancer which is also known as renal cancer.

First, Kidney Cancer is an illness where kidney cells become malignant and in time they start becoming a small tumor. First, they show up as tiny tubes (tubules) in the kidney and then they grow to spread or metastasize to other organs. If the cancer is seen in its early stages, it is easy to stop the spread and to treat it. However, if not seen in the early stages, the tumor can rapidly grow and spread to other organs.  

Image courtesy of Dialysis Technician Salary at Flickr.com

Risk factors

Doctors are puzzled as what really causes kidney cancer but in the process, they have identified certain risk factors that increase the chance of getting kidney cancer. Here are some of them: being a male is a risk factor, or at least it is more common in men than in women; being over 40 is the first thing that makes people vulnerable to this disease; smoking cigarettes or cigars for extended periods of time; obesity is a big risk factor because hormones can change and those, in turn, trigger the disease; Pain killers and their extended use throughout time is a very high-risk factor (over-the-counter drugs  and prescription drugs included); if the person suffers from  advanced kidney disease or has been going to dialysis treatments for a long period; and if the person has a genetic predisposition to diseases such as  von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease or inherited papillary renal cell carcinoma.

Other not proven factors are being exposed to certain chemicals, having high blood pressure, being black or having lymphoma.

The Symptoms

The symptoms can be very similar to almost all kidney diseases. They don’t appear in the early stages so if you want to know if you have kidney cancer you have to look for it with specific tests or have to come across it when getting other tests done. The most common symptoms are blood in the urine due to kidney malfunction and a little or visible lump in the abdomen. This comes combined with a loss of appetite, pain in the kidney area that seems to last forever, weight loss and fever that has no real cause. Other symptoms are extreme fatigue, anemia and swollen ankles and legs.

The tests

This answers the question that maybe you are asking yourself by now: How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Cancer? Well, we have mentioned certain symptoms and the doctor will check for those first. He or she will be looking for a lump or high blood pressure. The doctor will also ask you about your habits and background to see if there is a real reason to go further with more tests such as Urine tests to see if there are small traces of blood and blood tests to see if your kidneys are working properly.

To go deeper, there is a test called Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) which is basically an  X-ray of your kidneys with a dye that the doctor injects you and travels to your kidneys to highlight any tumor that can be present in the urinary tract. Another test is an ultrasound that can see the difference between a solid tumor and a fluid-filled tumor.

Other tests are the CT scan that uses X-rays and a computer to take a detailed picture of the kidneys and has already replaced the previously mentioned tools to diagnose kidney cancer; Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI);  and Renal arteriogram which is a test that helps determine the blood supply to the tumor.

The stages

Image courtesy of Dialysis Technician Salary at Flickr.com

If you already know you have kidney cancer, you should know where you stand. Here are the four stages that can be seen in kidney cancer and of course if the stage is higher it is because cancer has evolved and it is already life-threatening:

Stage 1 and 2: at this stage, it is safe to say that the patient is still on time. Here you can see 7 centimeters or smaller tumor that is only located in the kidney and as for stage 2, the same tumor is seen and in the same location but it is already larger than 7 centimeters.

Stage 3: in this stage, the patient is at risk. The tumor is now big and it can be located near at least one lymph node or a main blood vessel. The tumor in this stage can also be seen within the fatty tissue around the kidney and extend into major veins or perinephric tissues

Stage 4: in this stage, the patient is at life risk. The tumor is now beyond the fatty layer of tissue around the kidney and has spread to other organs specifically the bowel, pancreas, and/or lungs

Be sure to also read this post about certain things that diabetes may do to your kidneys

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