Kidney or renal cell cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tubules of the kidney. In Singapore, it accounts for 1-2% of all cancers or approximately 2.4 and 1.3 of every 100,000 men and women respectively. The prevalence of this disease has been rising in recent years at an annual rate of approximately 2-3% and this has been attributed to the use of ultrasonography and computed tomography (CT) scan for other complaints.
The majority of those with kidney cancers are diagnosed when they are investigated for other complaints, even though they have no specific symptoms related to the disease. Kidney cancer diagnosed this way is usually small and at an early stage. On the other hand, about a third of all those with the disease will present late with the disease at an advanced stage.
Possible signs of symptomatic renal cell cancer include:
As is the case for other human cancers, kidney cancer is a disease commonly affecting the elderly with nearly two out of three people diagnosed over 65 years old. Kidney cancer is rare in people under 50.
In most cases, there is no identifiable cause for the disease, although there are some associated risk factors :
Further tests to confirm the presence and extent of kidney cancer may include :
The treatment options for early cancer may include:
Surgery is the standard treatment option for those with kidney tumours who are fit for surgery. The extent of surgery may be categorised into two types :
Partial nephrectomy is performed when the tumour is small or if the person has a single kidney left or has impaired kidney function. Radical nephrectomy is performed when the tumour is large and very close to the blood vessels or ureter.
Kidney surgery may be performed using the conventional open laparoscopic or robot-assisted techniques, depending on the kidney tumour characteristics and patient suitability.
This is a minimally invasive ablative procedure that uses thermal energy to destroy tumour cells.
In prostate cancer, male sex hormones can cause prostate cancer to grow. Hormonal therapy works by removing the Selected patients with a very small kidney tumour may be monitored closely with kidney scans to assess the growth rate or changes in the tumour appearance.
Radiofrequency ablation and active surveillance are more suited for elderly patients with multiple medical problems and are not fit for surgery.
As only one good kidney is needed to lead a normal life, most people with one kidney removed do not end up with kidney failure requiring dialysis. Your treating doctor will counsel you on the risks of impaired kidney function after surgery which depends on the presence of factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and advanced age.
For selected patients who present late with kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, surgery to remove the kidney in combination with systemic therapy has shown to be effective treatment even in advanced kidney cancer.
Systemic treatment in this group of patient may include:
If you are not fit for surgery, immunotherapy or targeted therapy may be given to control the disease with or without surgery later, depending on your response to treatment. It is reassuring to note that there are still very effective treatments for patients presenting late with advanced stage of kidney cancer.