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Kidney Cancer Treatment: Symptoms, Classification, Diagnosis & Recovery

Kidney cancer, also called “renal cancer”, is a condition where the cells in the kidneys grow out of control. So, forms a small mass also called a renal cortical tumor. This tumor could be malignant or benign. A malignant tumor is cancerous and may spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor is also cancerous but it does not spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor can grow but won’t spread.

The exact reasons behind most kidney cancers are not completely understood. Doctors believe kidney cancer starts when certain cells in the kidney change their DNA, like a set of instructions inside the cell(mutation). These changes signal the cells to grow and multiply quickly. As these abnormal cells gather, they create a lump called a tumor, which might go beyond the kidney. In some cases, these cells can break away and travel to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis.

Once you are diagnosed with kidney cancer and know the stage of cancer, your doctor and you can plan your treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist such as a urologist, a radiation oncologist, or a surgeon for treatment. There are many types of kidney cancer treatment. However, in most cases, surgery is the first step. Sometimes, even if the surgery removes the entire tumor, your doctor may recommend additional treatments, to kill the remaining cancer cells, if any. Here below are a few types of treatment for kidney cancer.

In the beginning, kidney cancer often doesn't show any signs. As it progresses,

  • Blood in urine: Your pee might look pink, red, or like cola.
  • Persistent back or side pain: Pain that doesn't seem to go away in your back or side.
  • Loss of appetite: Not feeling hungry like before.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Losing weight without trying.
  • Tiredness: Feeling more exhausted than usual.
  • Fever: Running a temperature without a clear reason

Tests and procedures used to diagnose kidney cancer include:

  • Blood and urine tests: Blood and urine tests may be performed to assess kidney function and to detect certain substances that may confirm the presence of Kidney cancer
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests allow doctors to visualize a kidney tumor or abnormality. Imaging tests might include ultrasound, X-ray, CT, or MRI.
  • Biopsy: In some situations, the doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a small sample of cells (biopsy) from a suspicious area of the kidney. The sample is tested in a lab to look for signs of cancer. This procedure isn't always needed.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Urography: This imaging technique involves using a CT scan to obtain detailed pictures of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.

The combination of these diagnostic tests helps determine the extent and characteristics of the kidney cancer, guiding the healthcare team in developing an appropriate treatment plan. It's important to consult with a medical professional who can assess your specific situation, order the necessary tests, and provide personalized recommendations based on the results.

To tackle kidney cancer, the first step often involves surgery to remove the cancer cells. If the cancer is only in the kidney, surgery might be the most preferred treatment needed. But if the cancer has spread, there could be other treatments recommended.

The patient and treatment team can discuss what's the best procedure depending on the situation. The right plan depends on things like your overall health, the type of kidney cancer you're dealing with, how far it has spread, and what you prefer for treatment.

Treatment involves surgical methods and nonsurgical methods

  • Surgical methods are used to treat most kidney cancers, surgery is often the first step. The aim is to get rid of the cancer while trying to keep the kidney working as normal as possible. There are different ways to do this surgery. One way is removing the whole kidney (radical nephrectomy), and another way is taking out just the cancer and a bit of healthy tissue around it called Partial Nephrectomy (kidney-sparing surgery). The surgery can be done with a large incision or through smaller ones using laparoscopy or robotics.
  • For small kidney cancers, nonsurgical methods can sometimes be used to destroy the cancer. This is considered when surgery is risky due to other health issues. Two options include freezing the cancer cells (cryoablation) using a special needle that releases cold gas, and heating the cells (radiofrequency ablation) with a probe that sends an electrical current, causing the cells to heat up and burn.

Treatment for Recurrent Kidney Cancer:

When kidney cancer comes back or spreads, curing it becomes challenging. However, treatments aim to control cancer and enhance comfort:

  • Surgery: If complete removal isn't possible, surgeons strive to take out as much cancer as they can. This may include addressing cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Targeted Therapy: Special drugs focus on specific abnormalities in cancer cells, prompting them to die. Testing your cancer cells helps identify the most effective targeted drugs.
  • Immunotherapy: This approach harnesses your immune system to combat cancer. By disrupting the process that allows cancer cells to hide from the immune system, immunotherapy stimulates your body's defense mechanisms.
  • Radiation Therapy: High-energy beams, like X-rays, target and destroy cancer cells. It's used to manage symptoms or shrink kidney cancer that has spread, such as to the bones or brain.

After your procedure, the doctor and team check with you regularly to monitor your incision and evaluate your comfort level.

Generally, the patient may resume consuming solid food within 24 to 48 hours of surgery. Most patients can be discharged from the hospital after 1 to 2 nights in the hospital and may continue recovery at their own home. Patients with larger tumors might expect to stay in the hospital for 2-4 days. will likely have a follow-up appointment in 2 to 4 weeks. At this time, the surgeon will suggest when could return to work.

Because physical activity helps boost blood circulation and also decreases the risk of clots. Patients are encouraged to exercise during their recovery from kidney cancer surgery.

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