Kidney cancer develops when healthy cells mutate and begin to grow and divide very rapidly. The abnormal cells then build up, bind together and form tumors in the kidneys. In most cases, the cancer forms in the lining of the renal tubules, which are tiny tubes that filter waste products from the blood and produce urine. This specific type of kidney cancer is known as renal cell carcinoma.
What causes kidney cancer?
Scientists within the general medical community are working hard to gain a better understanding of the cellular DNA changes that lead to the development of renal cell carcinoma. While the precise causes are still unknown, several risk factors have been identified, including smoking and obesity. Certain inherited genetic syndromes have also been linked to an elevated risk of kidney cancer, including von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome, hereditary renal oncocytoma and hereditary leiomyoma renal cell carcinoma. Screening options are available for high-risk patients.
What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?
Early-stage kidney cancer is often asymptomatic. As a tumor grows, it may begin to produce symptoms such as:
- Bloody urine
- Pain and tenderness between the ribs and hips
- Low back pain
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
How is kidney cancer treated?
Renal cell carcinoma treatment can vary based on several factors, including the stage of the cancer and the patient’s overall health. Some options include:
In most cases, surgery is the first-line treatment for renal cell carcinoma. To address a relatively small tumor that is confined to a kidney, a surgeon may perform a partial nephrectomy to remove the cancerous portion of the kidney along with a margin of surrounding healthy tissue. To address a more advanced tumor, a surgeon may perform a radical nephrectomy to remove the entire cancerous kidney, a margin of surrounding fatty tissue and possibly the adrenal gland and some nearby lymph nodes. For some patients, robotic surgery performed with the assistance of the da Vinci® Surgical System may be a minimally invasive alternative to a partial or radical nephrectomy.
In some cases, hot or cold therapy may be used to treat a tumor in place. One option is cryoablation, which involves the use of ultrasound or other imaging guidance to precisely direct a hollow needle into a tumor. Through the needle, cold gas is then delivered to freeze and destroy the cancerous cells. Another option is radiofrequency ablation (RFA), which is similar to cryoablation but targets the cancer with an electrical current to generate heat instead of cold gas.
Designed to interfere with the cancer-causing genes that promote tumor growth, targeted therapies work by stopping or slowing the spread of cancer. For instance, most kidney tumors create their own network of blood vessels that allows the cancer to thrive. Angiogenesis inhibitors can disrupt this process. Other targeted therapies for renal cell carcinoma can interrupt the division of cancerous cells.
Like targeted therapies, immunotherapies do not directly destroy cancerous cells. Instead, these manmade antibodies or genetically modified substances work by bolstering the body’s immune system to help it identify and fight cancer. Most immunotherapies for renal cell carcinoma are checkpoint inhibitors, which help the body’s cancer-fighting immune cells (T cells) mount a stronger and longer-lasting response to the cancer.
To destroy cancerous cells, radiation therapy directs high-powered energy beams—which are generated from sources such as X-rays and protons—directly to a tumor. Radiation therapy may be used to reduce or control symptoms of kidney cancer that has spread to other areas of the body, such as the bones or brain.
Moffitt’s approach to kidney cancer treatment
Moffitt Cancer Center has distinguished itself as one of the nation’s premier cancer treatment facilities and is the only facility based in Florida that has been named a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. This prestigious designation recognizes our commitment to performing extensive research and conducting a robust clinical trials program, which allows us to offer cutting-edge kidney cancer treatments that are unavailable anywhere else.
At Moffitt, our multispecialty kidney cancer team includes board-certified surgeons, physicians, radiologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, researchers, supportive care specialists and other medical professionals. Working closely together in our Urologic Oncology Program, these experts develop a tailored treatment plan for each patient to help him or her achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life. We also hold collaborative tumor board meetings each week to assess and monitor complex cases. These are just some of the ways in which we provide outstanding patient care.
If you would like further information about kidney cancer, you are welcome to talk with a specialist in the Urologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.