By Dr. Pratik Patil
June 16th is being marked as World Kidney Cancer Day with an aim to spread awareness around the disease and its risk factors along with effective treatment options that are available. Kidney cancer (also known as renal cancer) is often termed as a ‘silent killer’ as it exhibits almost no symptoms at the onset of infection, and only when the disease has progressed substantially do symptoms manifest in one form or another. However in most cases, medical experts are able to diagnose Kidney cancer at a relatively early stage before it spreads to the other organs of the body (metastasize). This means that the chances of a patient getting fully cured are higher in this form of cancer.
Let’s understand a little more about some of the triggers, causes and treatments related to this metabolic disease.
Worldwide, kidney cancer has been found to be the 13th most common cancer. Renal Cell Carcinoma itself has been the cause for more than 1.8 lakh casualties annually. Among kidney cancers, Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) is the most prevalent with a higher occurrence rate in men (65 percent) versus that in women (59.7 percent) as suggested by the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP) 2021, which was released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Traditionally, kidney cancer has been found to be more prevalent among people above the age group of 40, however, in recent times the incidence of the disease has seen an uptick among the younger age groups as well. As per an alarming statistics mentioned in the NCRP 2021 report, 23 percent cases of kidney cancer are being reported in individuals aged less than 20 years.
Since both the kidneys are located deep down in the body, the symptoms take time to manifest on the outside. It is when the tumour has grown in size and starts hindering the normal functioning of the kidney that the symptoms of the disease come to the surface.
Common symptoms of Kidney Cancer are-
Blood discharge during urination
Lump on the side or in the abdomen
Sudden weight loss
Long episode of fever without cold or other plausible reasons
Loss of appetite
When disease spreads to the other parts, more severe symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing up blood and bone pain are experienced.
Factors causing Kidney Cancer
There is a still some amount of ambiguity around the exact factors that cause kidney cancer. However, based on various studies probable factors that have been linked to higher incidence of kidney cancer include smoking, obesity and hereditary causes (family history) among others. The incidence of the disease increases substantially with increasing age and is found to be more prevalent among men over women.
The pair of kidneys plays an indispensable role of purifying the blood of all impurities and removing waste products from the body. Therefore, scheduling regular check-ups of kidney and related organs is one crucial step to ensure preventive care. In contrast to other types of cancers, which require a number of specialised tests including biopsy to determine the presence of tumour, diagnosis of kidney cancer is pretty straight forward. Urine tests and CT scans are commonly used and substantially accurate techniques to determine the presence of cancerous cells in kidneys and their vicinity.
While there are various treatment options available to manage kidney cancer such as chemotherapy, surgery, laser treatment, targeted therapy and immunotherapy, the final choice depends on the spread of the disease. The location of the tumour (inside or outside the kidneys), its size and its spread to other body organs essentially determine the form of treatment.
Surgery: Surgery is the go-to treatment in most cases of kidney cancer as the aim is to remove the tumour from the organ and resume its normal functioning. This is also corroborated by the NCRP 2021 report, which suggests that surgery is the most prevalent form of treatment used against kidney cancer. However, when the disease has spread to other body organs such as the liver, intestine or bones, surgery might not be the best form of treatment.
Immunotherapy: Considered as one of the advanced forms of treatment with minimal side-effects, immunotherapy aims at strengthening the natural immunity of the human body to stem the growth of cancer cells. The treatment, which has also been found efficient in treating other types of cancer stops the growth of cancer cells and also prevents chances of future germination of such cancer cells by developing natural immunity against it.
Hence, it is important to become more aware about how one can manage an instance of kidney cancer. The good news is that in most cases it is curable using a range of treatment options if diagnosed at an early stage. While there are many uncertain factors that may cause this form of cancer, one can keep kidney cancer and other related diseases at bay by adopting some healthier life choices such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, working out regularly and planning regular doctor visits for timely check-ups.
(The author is Medical Oncologist at Sahyadri Superspeciality Hospital, Pune. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical experts and health professionals before starting any therapy, medication and/or remedy. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express.com.)