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Is kidney cancer serious?

Kidney cancer can be very serious, depending on the stage of the cancer. Staging refers to how far the cancer has progressed. The earlier the stage, the more likely that treatment and recovery will be possible. For early stages of kidney cancer, chances of recovery are better so it's not as serious. However, if kidney cancer isn't diagnosed till it's already advanced, chances of recovery start to decrease and the cancer can become fatal. Because of this, it's important to talk to your doctor if you notice any symptoms to increase your chances of recovery.

Kidney cancer is very serious, and indeed, it is the most lethal cancer that urologists deal with. Traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy do not work well for kidney cancer, thus stage 2, 3 and 4 cancer patients can die from this cancer. This makes a multi-disciplinary approach to kidney cancer treatment critical for survival, and we offer this at our institution.
Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the kidneys.  Common types of kidney cancer include renal cell carcinoma, renal pelvis carcinoma and Wilms tumor (typical in children under age 5).
The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, however, the following situations may increase your risk of developing kidney cancer:
  • older age
  • being male
  • dialysis treatments (or other treatments for kidney failure)
  • family history of kidney cancer
  • high blood pressure and obesity
  • polycystic kidney disease
  • horseshoe kidney
Symptoms of kidney cancer are rare in its early stages and more prevalent in later stages and can include:
  • blood in urine (hematuria)
  • abdominal pain and swelling
  • back or flank pain
  • weight loss
  • swelling of the veins surrounding the testicles
Kidney cancer, like other cancers, is designated by stages.  The higher stage cancer, the worse the cancer progression is.  Stage I cancer is characterized by a small (2.75 inch) tumor confined to the kidney.  Stage II cancer is also confined to the kidney, but the tumor is larger than a Stage I tumor.  Stage III cancer is characterized by an extension of the cancer beyond the kidney to the surrounding tissue or adrenal glands and may have also spread to proximal lymph nodes.  Stage IV cancer is characterized by the spread of cancer outside the kidney, to multiple lymph nodes or to other parts of the body including the bones, liver, lungs or brain.  This type of cancer can spread very easily and often, the cancer has already metastasized by the time of diagnosis. 
Treatment options and outcomes depend on the staging of the cancer; the survival rate is high if kidney cancer is caught in its early stages and lower if it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs.  It is important to discuss your symptoms and concerns with your doctor. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.