Your kidneys are one of the body’s “waste removal systems.” Healthy kidneys remove salts, extra water, and other wastes by making urine. Your kidneys keep your body’s chemistry in balance, adjusting the levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus in your blood. They also make hormones that help your body maintain a healthy blood pressure, keep your bones healthy, and produce red blood cells.
If cancer cells develop in your kidneys, it can limit your kidneys’ abilities to do their job, increase your risk of infection, and lead to kidney failure.
Kidney cancer can be difficult to diagnose early as the symptoms aren’t always noticeable until the cancer has advanced. When present, symptoms may include:
- Blood in your urine
- A constant pain in the lower back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Fever that comes and goes
Call your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above.
To better understand your condition, your healthcare provider may ask you questions about your symptoms and health history. You may also need diagnostic tests to determine if you have cancer, as well as the type and severity (stage) of your kidney cancer. Tests may include blood or urine tests, ultrasounds, CT or MRI scans, or a biopsy of the affected kidney tissue.
Kidney cancer is assigned a stage that is based its size and whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the kidney to surrounding tissue or lymph nodes. The stages range from I to IV, with Stage IV being the most aggressive and serious.
Once your cancer care team has a better understanding of your condition, they will recommend a treatment. Treatment options include:
- Surgery. A surgeon removes either just the affected part of your kidney (partial nephrectomy) or the entire kidney and neighboring lymph nodes (nephrectomy). You can live a normal life with one healthy kidney.
- Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy uses medicines that are combined with your body’s own immune system to fight the kidney cancer.
- Targeted therapy. The cancer is targeted with unique medicines that limit the growth of cancer cells.
- Radiation. Targeted X-rays are used to destroy cancer cells and shrink the size of a tumor.