Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is known by an assortment of other names such as renal/kidney cancer, renal adenocarcinoma and hypernephroma (most of these names I had never heard of before). According to research, it is currently the most common type of kidney cancer among adults. Kidney plays a very important role in the body; removal of body waste and body fluid balance regulation. RCC is a very common cancer and in most cases,can spread to other organs such as lungs.
Statistics collected indicate that new diagnosis stands at about 15.6% for every 100,000 men and women annually with about 4% deaths for each 100,000 adults. It is feared that about 1.6% of adults (both men and women) will be diagnosed of renal pelvis and kidney cancer at a certain point in their lifespan. However 75% of the patients can survive this condition by up to five years, with a significant percentage fully cured if detected in early stages.
Causes of Renal Cell Carcinoma
The exact cause of Renal Cell Carcinoma remains unknown despite years of research by medics and researchers from across. For me, I was told it might have been because of stress, bad food habits, and hypertension, among others such as;
- Cigarette smoking
- Dialysis treatment
- Polycystic kidney disease (this is an inherited condition that causes cysts formation in the kidney)
- Von Hippel-Lindau: a genetic condition associated with formation of tumors and cysts in different organs
- Abuse of some prescribed and over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen and various nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that are primarily used to treat arthritis
Please note that anyone can be diagnosed of RCC. To dodge it, it is important to avoid the above risk factors and try as much as possible to lead a healthy life.
Common Symptoms Of Renal Cell Carcinoma
Just like other similar disorders, RCC can remain symptom-free in its early stages. It is therefore possible for patients to remain unaware of the condition if they don’t go for screening or detect common signs early. When I first saw blood in the urine, I didn’t take it seriously. This was followed by occasional pain on the sides of the body.Other known known symptoms include:
- A growth/lump in the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Gradual and inexplicable weight loss
- Constant pain on the body’s sides
- Problems with vision
- In women, excessive growth of hair
Despite the above symptoms, the only surest way to diagnose RCC is through screening. This should be done regularly as it will make sure that disorder is detected in its early stages and can therefore be arrested before it becomes life-threatening.
Diagnosis of Renal Cell Carcinoma
On suspicion that you might be suffering from RCC, your doctor will definitely request for your medical history as well as that of your family. This will then be followed by a physical examination to check obvious signs such as swelling on the abdomen or enflamed veins in the scrotal sac in men.
In case the doctor suspects possibility of RCC, a number of tests will be ordered for accurate diagnosis. Some of the common tests that you may have to undergo include:
- Blood count: Blood is drawn from your arm then send to the laboratory for comprehensive evaluation
- CT Scan: The medic will closely look at your kidney for any unusual growth
- Ultrasounds: This test involved the use of sound waves to show body organs, making it possible for the doctor to see tumors or any other problems in the abdomen. This is done on the abdomen and kidney.
- Urine tests: The urine can carry evidence of cancer as it contains cells from the kidney.
- Biopsy: This involves removal of a tiny kidney tissue. A needle is driven into the growth/tumor to draw tissues then sent to a pathologist for analysis. It is here that you can finally know whether the presence of cancerous cells is positive or negative.
When the cancer was confirmed, the doctors conducted more tests to identify the affected areas. This process is known as staging and for RCC, there are four stages. These tests include chest X-ray, PET scan and bone scan. Upon confirmation, my doctors commenced treatment.
Just like any other cancer type, there are different types of treatments for RCC. In most cases, more than one method is used.
- Surgery: This is one of the most common methods and include a variety of procedures such as removal of part of the kidney in the initial nephrectomy. In some cases, the whole kidney may be removed. In a more comprehensive surgical operation, adrenal gland, lymph nodes and surrounding tissues may also be removed. Radical nephrectomy may even result in the removal of both kidneys, necessitating a transplant or dialysis. Lucky for me, it didn’t get there. I underwent Robotic surgery that was done by Dr. TB Yuvaraja of Kokilaben Hospital Mumbai and it was a huge success.
- Radiation: During radiation therapy, x-rays are used to kill cancer cells. This can be done using a machine externally or internally via wires and seeds. \
- Chemotherapy: This involves the use of specialized drugs to get rid of the cancer cells. Depending on medication, it can be administered orally or intravenously. Doing this enables the medicine to move to different parts of the body, reaching cancerous cells and killing them.
- Biologic therapy: Also known as immunotherapy, this type of therapy works with the body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells.
- Targeted Therapy: This is a new type of cancer therapy that involves the use of drugs to attack specific cancer cells while sparing healthy ones. Some drugs can starve the tumor by blocking blood flow.
- Clinical Trials: This is another option for some RCC patients which involves testing of new treatment to establish their effectiveness in the treatment of the disorder. During this process, doctors closely monitor your progress and you are free to opt out any time.
Most cancer patients undergo various bodily changes during and after treatment. The general outlook however will depend on the spread of RCC and when you commence treatment. A full recovery is most likely and very possible if it is detected early enough. For my case, I have not experienced any serious complications because I am fully healed and back to my normal duties.
The survival rate reduces tremendously if the cancerous cells have spread to different body organs compared to when diagnosis is done before the spread. As earlier mentioned, 70% of RCC patients survive up to 5-years after diagnosis, this can be longer or shorter depending on the stage of diagnosis and treatment sought. Even upon treatment, I was told that you might still have to live with some side effects such as poor functioning of the kidney, and some long-term drug therapy if it results in a transplant. What matters is that you seek treatment as soon as possible.
Do you know anyone suffering from RCC or any other type of cancer in India or elsewhere in the world? Do you mind sharing your story? If you are currently undergoing treatment, I want to encourage you to remain positive because cancer can be cured. Feel free to share your story, it can change lives.