Kidney cancer is the 12th most prevalent cancer in the world and among the top 10 in America. However, detecting the disease in its earliest stages is not an easy task. Currently, people who are not at risk cannot be reliably tested for kidney cancer. Also, kidneys are located deep inside the body so they cannot be felt easily during physical exam. It doesn’t help that kidney cancers are often asymptomatic; they can grow undetected because they have little to no symptoms at all.

People must be aware of the risk factors associated with kidney cancer. This way, they can look out for the first signs of kidney trouble, seek professional help, and address the problem as early as possible.

Risk Factors

  • Certain genetic conditions such as Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease
  • Family history of kidney cancer
  • Exposure to carcinogenic chemicals such as asbestos, benzene, and cadmium
  • Extended use of certain pain medications
  • Having advanced kidney disorder or long-term dialysis
  • High blood pressure
  • Lymphoma
  • Men are twice as likely to get kidney cancer than women
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

  • Anemia
  • Blood in urine or hematuria. While it is the most common sign of kidney cancer, hematuria can be hard to detect. Sometimes, the amount of blood in urine is so small that it can only be ascertained by urinalysis. Hematuria can also be caused by other urinary diseases such as bladder infection cysts, inflammation, or kidney stones.
  • Fatigue or extreme tiredness
  • Prolonged fever not caused by infection, which sometimes lasts for weeks
  • Lower back pain that won’t go away. This symptom is usually experienced in the later stages of the disease, when the cancer has acquired significant mass. Anywhere from a dull ache to a stabbing pain can be felt on the area above the pelvis, below the ribs in the abdomen, or on one side of the flank.
  • Mass or lump in the abdomen
  • Swelling in the legs or ankles
  • Inexplicable weight or appetite loss

The presence of any of these should prompt a visit to the doctor. Tests typically done to determine the cause of the above-mentioned symptoms include:

  • Urine test to detect the presence of blood in urine. About half of all patients with renal cell cancer have blood in their urine. If the patient has transitional cell carcinoma, a special test called urine cytology can sometimes point out the presence of the actual cancer cells in the sample.
  • Blood test to determine how the kidney is functioning and if it is healthy enough to efficiently filter waste in the blood.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) uses a dye that highlights tumors to the urinary tract. The abdomen is X-rayed to get a clear image of the tract and the dye.
  • Ultrasound is especially useful for detecting solid or fuel-filled tumors.
  • CT Scan combines the function of both IVP and ultrasound.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates detained images of the body’s soft tissues.

See your urologist at the first sign of kidney trouble to make sure that your body’s bean-shaped filters are always in their best condition.