Early Warning Signs of Kidney Cancer and What You Can Do About It
Kidney cancer is a serious and prevalent medical issue. According to the American Cancer Society¹, 63,340 U.S. patients are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year, and 14,970 people die of kidney cancer annually.
If you have kidney cancer, you need to act quickly to receive treatment; kidney cancer is very preventable if caught before stage 4. Your chances of survival are high if you know both the warning signs and treatment options for kidney cancer.
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Early Warning Signs of Kidney Cancer
Kidney cancer is highly treatable when it’s caught early, but patients often don’t realize they have the symptoms of this serious cancer until it’s too late. All cancers grow gradually over time, and kidney cancer is no exception.
Cancer originates when a single cell becomes mutated and begins to multiply. Since cancer grows exponentially over time, tumors are imperceptible when they first form. As your tumor begins to grow, you may begin to see the following symptoms of kidney cancer:
- Bloody urine
- Back pain
- Swelling in your lower back
In most of kidney cancer, patients are diagnosed with cancers that originate in the kidneys. Some patients, though, may have cancer that’s spread to other organs around the kidneys. Doctors will tailor your treatment to the specific type of cancer you’re diagnosed with. Although there are technically over a dozen classifications according to Cancer.net², of kidney cancer, the medical community classifies kidney cancers into the following four distinct stages.
Stage 1: Stage 1 kidney cancer is the most curable cancer. In Stage 1, tumors are still very small. The standard treatment in this stage is to use a partial nephrectomy to surgically remove the tumor. Surgery is highly effective in Stage 1.
Stage 2: Doctors classify kidney cancer as Stage 2 once tumors become larger than seven centimeters in diameter, Texas Oncology³ reports. Surgery is the option doctors usually recommend for Stage 2 patients. Unfortunately, doctors have to remove the kidney containing the tumor for patients with Stage 2 kidney cancer. Everyone has two kidneys, so most people can get by with only one kidney without experiencing any serious health problems.
Stage 3: Once kidney cancer reaches Stage 3, survival rates fall dramatically. Only 53 percent of patients survive for five years after being diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney cancer according to Healthline⁴. At Stage 3, tumors begin to appear outside of the kidneys. The surgery used to address Stage 3 kidney cancer is referred to as a radical nephrectomy because surgeons will remove both the kidney and the nearby adrenal gland.
Stage 4: Unfortunately, kidney cancer that reaches Stage 4 has completely metastasized to spread throughout the body. Patients diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer have only an eight percent chance of surviving for five years according to the American Cancer Society⁵. At Stage 4, chemotherapy, surgery, and other treatments are not effective or generally recommended. Doctors will usually recommend palliative care to help patients live comfortable lives as they fight kidney cancer at this stage.
Catching Kidney Cancer Early
Kidney cancer progresses to more advanced stages over time, so early detection is critical for increasing your chances of survival. Your physician will start the diagnosis process by referring you to a kidney specialist. Your kidney doctor will, then, use a CT scan or MRI to detect whether you have a tumor in your kidney. If a tumor is detected, you and your doctor will be able to develop a treatment plan that’s best for your cancer.
Physicians are trained to notice the signs of kidney cancer during routine physicals, so visiting your doctor at regular intervals is generally the best way to detect kidney cancer at an early stage. The number one way to prevent kidney cancer from taking your life is to have regular urine tests – cancer screenings typically aren’t given to individuals who aren’t high risk. Because of this, it’s crucial to have routine physicals and see your doctor each year to catch kidney cancer before it becomes deadly.
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