The kidneys are two reddish-brown, bean-shaped organs located just above the waist. One kidney is just to the left, and the other just to the right of the backbone. Both are partially protected by the lower ribcage.
Several types of cancer can develop in the kidney. Renal cell cancer is the most common type of kidney cancer, and occurs more often in men than in women. Renal is the Latin word for kidney.
Like all cancers, renal cell cancer begins small and grows larger over time. Although renal cell cancer usually grows as a single mass within the kidney, a kidney may contain more than one tumor, or tumors may be found in both kidneys at the same time. Some renal cell cancers are noticed only after they have become quite large, but most are found before they metastasize (spread) to other organs through the bloodstream or lymph vessels.
Transitional cell cancer, which affects the lining of the renal pelvis, is a less common form of kidney cancer. It is similar to cancer that occurs in the lining of the bladder and is often treated like bladder cancer.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
Due to the deep location of the kidneys, there may not be any symptoms until the tumor has grown quite large. The most common symptom is blood in the urine (hematuria). Other symptoms of kidney cancer may include:
- A lump or mass in the kidney area
- Recurrent fever
- Rapid weight loss
- Lingering dull ache or pain in the side, abdomen or lower back
- Feeling fatigued or in poor health
Detection & Diagnosis
Small and early stage renal cell carcinomas are commonly diagnosed incidentally by routine ultrasound and CT scans done for other unrelated symptoms and health problems. Larger renal cell carcinomas usually present with symptoms. There are several tests used to detect and stage kidney cancer:
- Imaging Diagnosis
Diagnostic imaging include ultrasound, intravenous pyelogram (IVP), CT scan and MRI scan. CT of the kidneys involve injecting a dye into the blood streams during the scanning. Kidney cancer will enhance (or light up brilliantly) while other pathology like renal cyst will not enhance. This is the best imaging modality. CT scan is used to stage the disease as well. In patients with poorly functioning kidney or has allergies to contrast (dye), MRI is done instead.
- Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA)