Q&A Topic: Kidney Cancer
Warren Bromberg, MD, FACS
Q: What is kidney cancer?
A: The kidneys are a paired organ that reside on either side of the spine in the mid back. They filter about a gallon of blood every minute resulting in the clear yellow urine that passes down long tubes to the bladder, which stores the urine until you’re ready to urinate. Your kidneys eliminate waste products and toxins, regulate your blood pressure and body fluids, and produce erythropoietin which stimulates bone marrow to produce red blood cells. In other words, your kidneys are extremely valuable.
Growths can occur in your kidneys, and they can be benign or malignant (cancerous). There are more than 63,000 new kidney cancer cases per year in the U.S.; that number is increasing about 1% per year. The good news is that the death rate from this cancer is decreasing by the same amount due to more effective diagnosis and treatment.
Q: What causes kidney cancer?
A: There are several risk factors. Smoking increases your risk by about 50% in men and 20% in women. Other risk factors include obesity and high blood pressure. The risk also increases for those on long-term dialysis for kidney failure. Additionally, some people have a genetic predisposition to certain types of kidney cancers. There are measures you can take to reduce your risk—for example, stop smoking, eat fruits and cruciferous vegetables and add fatty fish to your diet.
Q: How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
A: More than half the time, the diagnosis of kidney cancer occurs incidentally while investigating symptoms. There is no blood test for kidney cancer nor any screening. If the cancer is advanced, the tumor may secrete unusual hormones causing problems such as high blood calcium, polycythemia (extra-red blood cells) and hypertension. These may provide the first clue that an underlying kidney cancer is the culprit.
Q: What are the treatment options?
A: Treatment depends on the stage of the tumor at the time it’s discovered, along with a person’s age, overall health, kidney function, etc. Tumors are staged by size and whether they are confined to the kidney or have spread to other parts of the body. The standard treatment which may result in cure is to remove either the tumor or, at times, the entire kidney. Cure is highly possible if the cancer is confined to the kidney. Unfortunately, once the cancer has spread (metastasized), one’s prognosis is poor.
The traditional surgical approach used to be via a large incision in the flank, or occasionally in the abdomen in the front. This is a highly successful method but associated with a significant recovery time. At Northern Westchester Hospital, we use robotic technology, which has taken such surgery to a new level. Enhanced precision, minimal scarring and better visualization have led to better outcomes and faster recovery.
Northern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health.
Read Past Topics from Dr. Bromberg:
Incontinence In Women
Male Sexual Dysfunction
Over 50? Difficulty Urinating? You May Need Treatment for an Enlarged Prostate