More than 73,000 Americans will be diagnosed with kidney cancer each year. Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, ranks among the 10 most common cancers in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society.
While kidney cancer rates have risen in the last decade, survival rates have held steady. Thanks to today’s advanced imaging tests, more cases are being discovered before symptoms appear.
The specialists at El Camino Health Cancer Care are highly experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney cancer. Our multidisciplinary care team brings together urology surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists to create a personalized treatment plan for you — one that’s appropriately aggressive with the most effective results and the fewest side effects.
Medical experts don’t understand the exact cause of kidney cancer, and there is no known prevention. But studies reveal several risk factors — that is, characteristics or behaviors that increase your chance of developing the disease. For kidney cancer, risks include:
- Exposure to toxic substances (asbestos, cadmium)
- Gender (kidney cancer is about twice as common in men than women)
- High blood pressure
- Increasing age (the average age of those diagnosed is 64)
- Obesity and sedentary lifestyle
- Treatment for kidney failure (dialysis)
You may be able to reduce your risk by avoiding environmental pollution and making healthy lifestyle choices – eat well, exercise and don’t smoke.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Early-stage kidney cancer causes no symptoms. Cases that are discovered in their earliest most curable stages are usually found during an imaging procedure unrelated to cancer. Symptoms that appear in the later stages of kidney cancer may include:
- Back pain and swelling
- Blood in urine
- Intermittent fever
- Weight loss
Most kidney cancers are tumors, but a precise diagnosis is the first step in treatment. Diagnostic imaging and laboratory tests include:
- Blood and urine tests. Blood tests can show how well your kidneys are working. Urine tests reveal the presence of cancer cells.
- Imaging tests. An ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan or MRI test can visualize a tumor or other abnormality.
- Biopsy. Biopsy is removing a sample of suspicious kidney cells for examination. El Camino Health is one of the first South Bay hospitals to offer Artemis™ 3D Imaging and Navigation for exceptionally precise imagery to perform biopsies.
Kidney Cancer Treatment
El Camino Health offers a range of approaches for the treatment of kidney cancer, including surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy or a combination of these treatments. If the tumor is minimal, our doctors may recommend active monitoring, which does not interfere with the success of any eventual treatment that may be needed.
Chemotherapy is not a standard treatment for kidney cancer.
Surgery is the top treatment for most stages of kidney cancer and in many cases can cure it. El Camino Health surgeons are experts in the use of minimally invasive techniques to remove only the portion of the kidney involving the tumor and a rim of normal tissue around the area (called a partial nephrectomy). If the cancer is large, the entire kidney may need to be removed (called a radical nephrectomy), and a minimally invasive surgical approach may still be possible.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles to shrink or kill cancer cells. Our highly experienced radiation oncology experts can precisely deliver concentrated doses of external radiation using advanced technology, such as Edge™ stereotactic radiosurgery, Ethos™ adaptive radiation therapy and RapidArc® intensity-modulated radiation therapy. We also offer internal radiation, called brachytherapy, where small radioactive “seeds” are implanted permanently in the affected area.
Targeted Drug Therapy
Targeted drugs used to treat the more advanced stages of kidney cancer work by blocking the growth of the new blood vessels that feed cancers or the proteins in cancer cells that help them grow. Targeted drugs are proving to be effective where chemotherapy has not. El Camino Health is at the forefront of community hospitals using this treatment. We analyze your cancer to learn its protein and chemical makeup, then determine which drugs will have the maximum effect.
Immunotherapy (biologic therapy) may be used alone or in combination with targeted drug therapy to treat advanced kidney cancer. Our specialists are skilled in the use of checkpoint inhibitors, a type of immunotherapy drug that can shrink or slow the growth of tumors. Checkpoint inhibitors work by blocking a cancer cell’s ability to hide from your immune system, allowing your body to recognize and destroy the disease.
In addition, El Camino Health offers a variety of specialized services, support and assistance to address the psychological, emotional and spiritual needs of you and your family members throughout cancer treatment and recovery.
Clinical trials are research programs conducted with patients to evaluate new medical treatments, drugs or devices. The Taft Center for Clinical Research works with other medical centers and the National Cancer Institute to offer you the opportunity to participate in ongoing clinical trials. Ask your doctor if a clinical trial is right for you.