Cancer of the kidney occurs when there is a malignant growth within the kidney. This most commonly affects the cortex, or meat, of the kidney, and the commonest type is called renal cell cancer. There are different subtypes of renal cell cancer which can be identified by looking at the cells under a microscope.
Each year, over 6000 people in the UK are diagnosed with kidney cancer. It affects more men than women and becomes more common as people get older.
There is a rarer type of kidney cancer, known as transitional cell cancer (TCC), which starts in the cells lining the the renal pelvis. The treatment for transitional cell cancer is a little different.
Kidney cancers are often detected by chance during the investigation of an unrelated problem. Their most common symptom is haematuria, or blood in the urine. They can also cause pain in the flank, abdomen or back.
If you have blood in your urine, you must see your doctor to be referred to a urologist. You will then usually be seen in a one-stop clinic, and usually a combination of tests will be arranged. These include blood tests, urine tests, a scan of your tummy (either ultrasound or CT), and a flexible cystoscopy.
Kidney cancers are seen on a scan. Often they will initially be seen on an ultrasound scan, or a CT scan of the abdomen.
Surgery is the main treatment for kidney cancer, although if your cancer is small and surgery would be especially risky because of your age or other medical problems, the cancer can be observed with repeat ultrasound scanning. Surgical treatment of kidney cancer involves removing the whole kidney, and this is either done at an open operation, or more commonly via keyhole surgery (laparoscopically). Laparoscopy is a technique of performing a surgical operation using instruments inserted through narrow hollow tubes (‘ports’) rather than through a larger incision, as in traditional surgery. The result is shorter hospitalisation and convalescence, often less bleeding and post-operative pain and fewer wound complications. The main disadvantage to laparoscopic surgery is that it might take longer to perform. Also, there is a “conversion rate”, meaning that in some cases if the operation is too difficult or dangerous to perform through a laparoscope then the surgeon might decide that he needs to perform an open operation.
For small tumours it may be possible to only have part of the kidney removed, a partial nephrectomy. At Cambridge Urology Partnership we have specialists in partial nephrectomy, open surgery and keyhole surgery.
For more information about kidney cancer can be found at the following sites:
The National Kidney Federation (UK) promotes both the best kidney medical practice and treatment
Kidney Cancer UK provide UK kidney cancer patients and their carers with improved access to reliable information about kidney cancer and its treatment
Kidney Research UK funds research into kidney disease and aims to increase public awareness of kidney health
Macmilllan cancer backup information on kidney cancer
Cancer Research UK Information on Kidney cancer