Kidney Cancer, by Joshua Ebel, MD; Blanchard Valley Urology Associates
The kidneys are vital organs serving many important roles in your body including, filtering your blood and controlling your blood pressure. Unfortunately, they are also prone to developing abnormal cysts and tumors, some of which are cancerous.
Kidney cancer is in the top 10 most common cancers in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 70,000 Americans will be diagnosed with kidney cancer this year alone.
While kidney cancers were once typically diagnosed in advanced stages, most kidney cancers are now diagnosed incidentally and at early stages when patients undergo abdominal computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans or ultrasounds for often unrelated complaints. Some patients with kidney cancer will develop microscopic or visible levels of blood in their urine, which should prompt an evaluation by a urologist to rule out kidney cancer, among other causes such as bladder cancer or kidney stones.
It is important to know that not all abnormal growths in the kidney are cancerous. Many people have cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in their kidneys that are often non-cancerous. However, some more complex appearing cysts should still be evaluated by a urologist. There are also solid tumors of the kidney that are not cancerous but can grow or cause bleeding and should be followed by a urologist. Specialized testing such as dedicated magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), scope procedures or even biopsies helps urologists in better evaluating some cysts and tumors.
When kidney cancer is caught early, it is very treatable and often curable. Advanced kidney cancer that has already spread to other parts of the body is more difficult to treat. Therefore, it is important to treat kidney cancers before they spread.
Traditional surgery for kidney cancer involved large incisions and prolonged hospital stays. Now, newer approaches, like robotic surgery, allow many patients to keep their kidneys and only have the portion affected by cancer removed. This is called a partial nephrectomy. Larger cancers still require removal of the entire affected kidney (radical nephrectomy), but this can also be performed using a surgical robot, which allows patients to have smaller incisions and recover faster from surgery than with the traditional approach.
So, what is robotic surgery? The Da Vinci surgical robot is a system controlled by a surgeon, such as a urologist, which allows for the greater visualization and dexterity needed to perform complex operations through a series of incisions, most of which are less than half an inch.
As with any potential cancer, it is important to find a center that offers a wide range of specialists and has the newest technologies but is also accessible to you and willing to make you a priority. In addition to urologists, kidney cancer management can require a team of oncologists, interventional radiologists and nephrologists to help manage your care. You should additionally look for a urologist that has the latest training in kidney cancer surgery.