Kidney cancer

Overview

Kidney cancer begins in the kidneys and can spread to other organs including the lungs, bones or liver. The exact cause of kidney cancer is unknown, but there are certain risk factors linked to it including smoking, asbestos, family history, gender, Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, obesity, high blood pressure, diuretics and race.

People don’t usually undergo routine screenings for kidney cancer as they may for other cancers, such as colon and breast cancer. Kidney cancer is most often discovered incidentally while undergoing an ultrasound or CT scan for an unrelated reason. 

Our approach

At Northwell Health, the goal is to use the most advanced diagnostic technologies to arrive at an accurate kidney cancer diagnosis. 

Multidisciplinary kidney cancer treatment

The multidisciplinary team is experienced in complex, high-risk cancers. Within the first several days of a visit, physicians conduct a thorough evaluation and complete tests to develop a personalized kidney cancer treatment plan. 

Highlights of the kidney cancer treatments include:

  • Minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery performed by expert surgeons to allow patients quicker recovery, less pain and scarring, and faster recovery.
  • An emphasis on kidney-sparing surgery 
  • Innovative kidney cancer treatments, such as cryoablation (freezing the tumor), that have the least negative impact on the body
  • The latest molecular targeted therapies 
  • A focus on treating kidney cancer while preserving quality of life
  • Therapies to boost the immune system, reduce pain and improve quality of life

Each diagnosis is unique, so the team meets regularly to discuss treatment during weekly teleconferences where physicians share ideas and best practices for delivering collaborative patient care. The team members review each treatment phase to constantly improve cancer care and ensure treatment milestones are reached.

Symptoms

Some kidney cancers are discovered in patients experiencing specific symptoms such as:

  • Blood in the urine — pink, red or tea-colored
  • Back pain just below the ribs that doesn't go away
  • Unexplained abdominal pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue

Be aware that these symptoms could be due to conditions other than kidney cancer, so it’s best to see a doctor right away.

Diagnosis

The first step to kidney cancer diagnosis is usually a physical exam. A doctor will also consider medical history, kidney cancer risk factors and any related medical or precancerous conditions. Patients will be sent for tests if their doctor suspects that they might have kidney cancer.

A number of procedures and tests are used to deliver an accurate kidney cancer diagnosis as well as to determine how far the cancer has spread, known as the stage of the cancer.

  • Urine test — checks kidney function, finds blood and other substances that indicate presence of kidney cancer
  • Blood test — checks for several substances such as high levels of creatinine, a sign the kidneys may not be functioning properly
  • Diagnostic imaging
    • Renal (kidney) ultrasound — this kidney cancer diagnosis test uses sound waves to produce an image that can assess the size and location of the cancer
    • CT or CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan — more detailed than an X-ray or ultrasound, this test uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce detailed cross-sectional images of area
    • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) — a powerful magnet, radio waves and computer imaging combine to create a series of highly detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
    • PET/CT scan — ultrasound, CAT scan, MRI and PET/CT scans can all help to accurately define the size and location of the tumor and any growth into surrounding organs
  • Kidney biopsy — a piece of tissue is extracted from the cancer or a lymph node by a needle that is inserted into the tumor under guidance by ultrasound or CT scan. The biopsy tissue is studied under a microscope by a pathologist specializing in urologic cancers to determine the type, aggressiveness and stage of the tumor.

After diagnostic testing is complete, specialists will recommend a treatment plan based on a detailed kidney cancer diagnosis that is fully customized to each patient’s physical condition as well as the location and stage of the kidney cancer. 

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