Kidney Cancer Awareness
Kidney cancer is the eighth most common cancer in adults in the UK. About 9,300 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year. If caught early, kidney cancer can be cured by surgery but most UK adults are unclear on the symptoms of the disease. The more advanced a kidney cancer is, the less likely it is that it will be cured by surgery. Once it has spread to other parts of the body (metastasised) it is unlikely that a surgeon can cure it. It is particularly important that people notice symptoms which might be due to a kidney cancer and seek medical help. Although the exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, there are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of the condition developing, such as smoking and obesity.
Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer
Blood in the urine
This is the most common symptom of kidney cancer. Doctors call this haematuria. About half of the people diagnosed with kidney cancer will have this symptom when they first go to the doctor. The blood does not have to be there all the time. It can come and go; the amount of blood is usually high enough to change the colour of your urine to a reddish or dark brown colour. Sometimes, the blood cannot be seen by the naked eye but can be picked up by a simple urine test. If you ever see blood in your urine, you should go to the doctor.
Remember that most people who go to the doctor with blood in their urine don't have kidney cancer. In most cases, blood in the urine is caused by an infection, enlargement of the prostate, or kidney stones. Even so, a doctor should always investigate blood in the urine.
As the bleeding can come and go, both the doctor and patient may get the impression that the problem has gone away. This can mean that an early, treatable cancer in the kidney or bladder is allowed to grow to a stage where it may be more difficult to treat.
A lump or mass in the kidney area
If you feel a lump or swelling in the area of your kidneys, you need to go straight to your doctor. Most kidney cancers are too small for you or a doctor to feel. But it is possible to do an ultrasound scan of the kidneys to check for cancer.
Some people can have other symptoms, which can be vague. These are:
Loss of appetite
A high temperature and very heavy sweating
A pain in the side that won’t go away
A general feeling of poor health
A high temperature and sweats can be caused by an infection, and your doctor may want to rule this out first. High blood pressure and having fewer red blood cells than normal (anaemia) can also be symptoms of kidney cancer. These symptoms are related to the hormones that the kidneys produce.
If you have any of the symptoms discussed in this section, go to your doctor for a check up. Remember that these symptoms can be caused by many other conditions. Most people with these symptoms will not have cancer. But if it is cancer, then the sooner it is diagnosed the easier it will be to treat.
The treatment of kidney cancer depends on the size and spread of the cancer. Most commonly, surgery is the first course of action, with the aim of removing the cancer cells. Unlike most other cancers, chemotherapy is not very effective in treating kidney cancer. There are, however, non-surgical treatments available, such as radiotherapy or targeted drug therapies. These are most commonly used when the kidney cancer is advanced, so has spread beyond the kidney.
The outlook for kidney cancer is usually good if the condition is diagnosed in its early stages, when the cancer is still contained inside the kidney. This is because it is usually possible to completely cure the cancer by removing some or all of the kidney, as it is possible to live a healthy life with only one kidney. About one in three cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed at an early stage.
Depending on how aggressive the cancer is, 65-90% of people will live at least five years after receiving an early diagnosis of kidney cancer, with many people living much longer. The outlook for kidney cancer that has spread outside the kidney is less favourable. An estimated 40-70% of people with this type of kidney cancer will live at least five years after receiving a diagnosis.
If the kidney cancer is advanced and has spread to other parts of the body, only 1 in 10 people will live for at least five years after receiving a diagnosis.
References: NHS Choices and Cancer Research UK
Further information can be found at the following links: