Kidney cancer begins when healthy cells in the kidneys—two bean-shaped organs located below the ribcage on either side of the spine—undergo abnormal DNA changes that cause them to reproduce uncontrollably. The resulting excess cells then bind together and form tumors. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma, which develops in the lining of the tiny renal tubules that filter waste products from the blood and produce urine.
What Causes Kidney Cancer?
Scientists are still working to gain a better understanding of the cellular DNA changes that lead to kidney cancer. Although its exact causes remain unknown, several risk factors have been linked to its development, including smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and certain inherited genetic syndromes.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?
Early-stage kidney cancer is often asymptomatic. As a tumor grows, however, it may begin to press on nearby structures and cause symptoms such as:
- Blood-tinged urine
- Persistent pain or a palpable mass in the low back or side
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- General malaise and fatigue
- A persistent low-grade fever
How Is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed?
If kidney cancer is suspected based on a patient’s symptoms, a physician will typically perform a physical examination and order a urinalysis, blood work and imaging scans. To confirm the diagnosis, the physician may order a biopsy, which involves the removal of a sample of suspicious kidney tissue to be examined by a pathologist for evidence of cancer.
How Is Kidney Cancer Treated?
In most cases, surgery is the first-line treatment for kidney cancer. To address a relatively small tumor that is confined to one kidney, a surgeon may perform a partial nephrectomy to remove the cancerous portion of the kidney along with a slim margin of surrounding healthy tissue.
To address a more advanced tumor, a surgeon may perform a radical nephrectomy to remove the entire cancerous kidney, a margin of surrounding fatty tissue and possibly the adrenal gland and some nearby lymph nodes. After one kidney is removed, the remaining kidney is usually able to perform the function of both kidneys.
The outstanding genitourinary (GU) oncology professionals at Tampa General Hospital specialize in treating kidney cancer and other complex GU tumors. Because we see a high volume of patients each year, we’ve acquired extensive experience and perfected our surgical techniques. As such, we are well-positioned to help each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.