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Kidney Cancer

Some risk factors for kidney disease include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and being on dialysis for many years. Men have a higher rate of kidney cancer than women.  Other risk factors include prolonged exposure to asbestos and certain chemicals.

Symptoms of kidney cancer include blood in the urine or urine that looks brownish-red, persistent pain in the side of the abdomen, weight loss, a lump or mass on the side of the abdomen, fever and fatigue.  These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, such as infection.

How is it diagnosed?
How is it treated?
How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?
Frequently Asked Questions

How is it diagnosed?

Like any cancer, early diagnosis offers the best opportunity for effective treatment.  Depending upon the symptoms, your doctor may want to perform certain diagnostic tests.

  • Urinalysis and blood tests - to measure levels of specific substances. A high level of creatine in the blood, for example, indicates that the kidneys are not working as well as they should.  Poor kidney function could be caused by cancer or another problem.
  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that combines multiple X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images ("slices") of the kidneys and other organs, bones, muscle or tissue.
  • Ultrasound - uses soundwaves to create a picture of the kidneys and other organs.  Solid tumors and cysts are visible on the ultrasound image.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) - involves injecting a dye into a vein.  As the dye travels through the body and collects in the kidneys, a series of X-rays records its movement.  The X-rays help doctors see if there are obstructions or other problems in the kidneys, ureters or bladder.

How is it treated?

Surgery is the usual form of treatment for kidney cancer.  Depending on the cancer stage, the surgeon may remove a portion of the kidney (partial nephrectomy), one entire kidney (simple nephrectomy), or the entire kidney plus the adrenal gland and some lymph nodes (radical nephrectomy).  Most people can function fine with one remaining healthy kidney.  If both kidneys are removed or not working well, the person may need to go on dialysis-a mechanical process that performs the function of the kidneys several times each week.

Other forms of treatment also may be advised:

  • Arterial embolization-a non-surgical process that blocks blood supply to the kidney as a way to prevent the tumor from obtaining oxygen necessary to keep growing.  Arterial embolization is performed through a catheter (long, thin tube) that is inserted into a blood vessel in the leg and then guided up to the artery that supplies blood to the kidneys: the renal artery.  Arterial embolization may be performed before surgery, to help shrink the tumor.
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)-uses high-frequency electrical energy to kill cancer cells.  Guided by X-ray or CT scan, the physician inserts a thin needle through the skin and into the tumor site.  Electrodes at the end of the needle emit electrical energy that generates heat to destroy cancer cells.
  • Laparoscopic cryoablation-uses cold to freeze and kill cancer cells.  Guided by X-ray or CT scan, the physician inserts a thin needle through the skin and into the tumor site.
  • Immunotherapy-uses biological agents interleukin and interferon at high doses to stimulate the body's immune response.  Immunotherapy sometimes helps to shrink tumors.
  • Radiation therapy may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or to relieve pain in people who cannot have surgery.  However, radiation therapy is not a major form of treatment to eliminate kidney cancer.
  • Robotic nephrectomy - involves the removal of all or part of the kidney using tireless robotic arms and a camera inserted through a few tiny incisions in the abdomen. Patients experience less risk of blood loss and complications, as well as much recovery times than a traditional surgery.

How does Advocate Christ Medical Center make a difference?

Advocate Christ Medical Center offers experienced fellowship-trained surgeons, who can remove the kidney through small incisions in the navel instead of a large incision across the abdomen. That's important, because surgical removal of the kidney (nephrectomy) is the most frequent treatment for renal cancer.  Laparoscopic nephrectomy allows patients to heal more quickly, with less pain, and with less scarring than conventional open surgery. 

Our experience with non-surgical treatments means more options for some patients. The kidney cancer team at Christ Medical Center is experienced with radiofrequency ablation, laparoscopic cryoablation, and a newer technique called high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), an ablation procedure that uses ultrasound to generate intense heat that destroys targeted cancer cells.

Physicians at Christ Medical Center are involved in clinical trials of new chemotherapy agents for some kidney tumors, which is good news, because traditional chemotherapy agents have not been effective for kidney cancer.  Physicians here also use established immunotherapies (interleukins and interferon) to help manage kidney cancer and extend survival.

Nephrologists, urologists (who provide both surgical and medical treatment), reconstructive urologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, pathologists, oncology nurses and other care providers.  Additionally, Christ Medical Center has the experts and resources to address other medical issues that can complicate cancer treatment, such as heart disease or diabetes.

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