March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month (among others). Here is a simple guide to better understand kidney cancer and what types of treatments and tests are done to detect it.
You have two kidneys. They are bean-shaped and about the size of a fist. They clean waste out of your blood and make it into the urine; they also help control your blood pressure and help make sure you have enough red cells in your blood.
What is kidney cancer?
Cancer can start at any place in the body and can disrupt kidney function and cause kidney problems. Kidney cancer starts in the kidney and is also called renal cell carcinoma or RCC for short. It starts when cells in the kidney grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. This makes it hard for the body to work the way it should.
Cancer cells in the kidney can sometimes travel to the bone and grow there. When cancer cells do this, it’s called metastasis. The cancer cells in the new place will look just like the ones from the kidney and will affect your quality of life just the same.
Different kinds of kidney cancer
There are many types of kidney cancer. Some are very rare. The most common kind is called renal cell cancer (RCC). There are also subtypes of RCC that help your doctor know what treatment you need.
How to detect kidney cancer?
It might be hard to diagnose kidney cancer because kidney cancers don’t usually cause any signs or symptoms, but sometimes they might. Symptoms of kidney cancer may be:
- Blood in the urine
- Low back pain on one side (not from a hit or fall)
- A lump on the side or lower back
- Feeling tired
- Unintended weight-loss
- Fever that’s not from a cold and that doesn’t go away
Talk to a doctor if you notice any of these problems. Your doctor will ask you questions about your health and do an exam.
If signs are pointing to kidney cancer, more tests will be done. Here are some of the tests you may need:
Chest x-ray: X-rays may be done to see if the cancer has spread to your lungs.
CT scan: This is also called a “CAT scan.” It uses a special kind of x-ray that takes detailed pictures of your insides to see if the cancer has spread. You may ask your doctor specifically for a kidney CT.
MRI scan: This test uses radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to make pictures that look at the soft tissue parts of the body. This test may be used to see if the cancer has spread. You may ask your doctor specifically for a kidney MRI.
Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to take pictures of the inside of the body. This test can help show whether a kidney mass is solid or filled with fluid. (Kidney cancers are more likely to be solid.) If you need a kidney biopsy, a kidney ultrasound can be used to guide a needle into the lump to take out some cells for testing.
Kidney biopsy: In a biopsy, the doctor takes out a small piece of tissue to check it for cancer cells. For most cancers, a biopsy is the only way to tell for sure if you have cancer. But a biopsy is not always needed to tell if you have kidney cancer. X-rays or scans are sometimes enough.
Other treatments may include blood tests or urine testing. Some tests like kidney MRI or kidney CT may use contrast, an agent helps that radiologists see certain structures better. Contrast can cause allergic reactions in certain patients so it’s best to consult your doctor when deciding what test to use to diagnose kidney cancer.
What kind of treatment will I need?
There are many different types of kidney cancer treatment.
The treatment plan that’s best for you will depend on:
- The stage and grade of your cancer
- The chance that a type of treatment will cure cancer or help in some way
- Your age
- Other health problems you have
- Your feelings about the treatment and the side effects that come with it
Surgery for kidney cancer
Surgery is used to treat most kidney cancers. Any type of surgery can have risks and side effects. Be sure to ask your doctor what you can expect. If you have problems, let your doctors know. Doctors who treat people with kidney cancer should be able to help you with any problems that come up.
To book a scan, visit us at Medmo.com. Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them.