Kidney Cancer Diagnosis
There are no screening tests for kidney cancer and symptoms are not common. Most people are diagnosed with kidney cancer after it is found in imaging taken for other reasons, such as for kidney stones, appendicitis or even after a car accident.
In these cases, kidney cancer is usually found before there are symptoms. Fortunately, kidney tumors discovered this way are typically smaller, and found when they are in earlier, more treatable stages. The survival rate for people with early-stage kidney cancer is very high.
Symptoms of kidney cancer
Patients with larger kidney masses typically have symptoms, which may include:
- Blood in the urine, causing discolored urine
- Continuous pain in the back or side
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
Tests for kidney cancer
Tests and procedures that can help determine if someone has kidney cancer include:
- Blood and urine tests: These tests can give physicians clues about what may be causing symptoms.
- Preliminary imaging studies for kidney cancer diagnosis: Computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) scans and ultrasounds are used in the diagnosis of kidney tumors.
- Further imaging studies for kidney cancer diagnosis: These are typically recommended when kidney cancer was found on preliminary imaging and can reveal if it has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, which are a common site of kidney cancer metastasis.
- Non-surgical biopsy: Depending on the tumor's characteristics, a small tissue sample of the tumor is sometimes helpful and can provide a diagnosis and other information to help guide the most effective treatment plan.
Our interventional radiologists can perform a non-surgical biopsy as an outpatient procedure, usually in about 30 minutes. These specialists use CT scans to guide a small needle and take a tissue sample from the kidney with accuracy. Patients leave the procedure with just a small bandage and can get back to normal activities promptly. The pathology results from this procedure can confirm a kidney cancer diagnosis and help guide which treatment could be most effective for an individual.
Staging kidney cancer
Once kidney cancer is diagnosed, it is staged with pathology and imaging tests. Staging determines if the cancer is localized or if it has metastasized – spread to other parts of the body. The best type of treatment for each person will depend on information we learn from staging the cancer.
Kidney Cancer Treatment
At Wellstar, patients benefit from the close communication between our kidney cancer specialists who tailor treatment plans to your unique kidney cancer diagnosis. Our cancer experts are experienced in treating the most common type of kidney cancer and other less common types.
We offer different types of treatments from non-invasive and non-surgical to complex surgery. Our goal is to identify which treatment is right for every individual.
Depending on the stage of their cancer as well as the size and location of the tumor, treatments for kidney cancer may include one or a combination of the following treatments:
- Active surveillance
- Minimally-invasive partial nephrectomy (robotic laparoscopic)
- Radical nephrectomy
- Targeted therapy
- Radiation therapy
This non-invasive management option for kidney cancer is typically available to people whose kidney tumors are less than four centimeters. On an active surveillance protocol, physicians observe the kidney tumor through regular monitoring and imaging. Other treatments may be needed if the tumor grows at a certain rate or beyond a specific size.
Minimally-invasive partial nephrectomy
The gold-standard kidney-sparing treatment for treating kidney tumors is a robotic-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy
. Our team of urologic oncologists who specialize in robotic surgery have performed some of the highest volumes of this procedure in the region
A partial nephrectomy is a complex surgery that leaves the kidney intact while removing the tumor from the kidney. If the tumor’s size and location allows this approach, it is typically preferred over a complete (radical) nephrectomy to preserve kidney function.
When performed in the traditional manner, a partial nephrectomy leaves behind a large scar that spans from the belly button to nearly the middle of the back. When performed robotic-assisted laparoscopically, there is significantly less scarring – typically just four to five small incisions. Patients go home the next morning after the procedure and surgery site pain is drastically reduced.
When the location and size of a kidney tumor prevents a kidney-sparing approach, the whole kidney is removed to cure the cancer. This may be approached from a laparoscopic minimally-invasive or a more traditional open surgical approach, depending upon the characteristics of the tumor and the patient’s abdomen.
Multidisciplinary surgery for invading inferior vena cava
Rarely, a person with renal cell carcinoma has a kidney tumor that invades the blood vessels. The cancer can even extend into the inferior vena cava, the body’s largest vein, and climb toward the heart. At Wellstar, a multidisciplinary team of surgeons perform a very specialized type of surgery together
to open the artery and remove the entire tumor. Then, they rebuild the inferior vena cava.
Kidney tumor ablation
Kidney tumors smaller than four centimeters can be ablated from the inside. This minimally-invasive procedure
is guided by a computed tomography (CT) scan for accuracy. Essentially, interventional radiologists can deliver thermal energy in the form of microwave heat or liquid argon ice with a needle to melt or freeze off the cancerous spot. Kidney tumor ablation is an effective treatment for people with smaller tumors and for those who are not candidates for surgery. After this outpatient procedure, patients can return to normal activities within 24 hours.
Immunotherapy, targeted therapies & clinical trials
When kidney cancer has spread outside of the kidney, your treatment team may recommend a combination of treatments. Our medical oncologists stay up-to-date on delivering evidence-based treatments that are found to be most effective, including:
- Immunotherapy: These drugs activate the immune system to fight cancer. When it is indicated for a patient, this can be combined with surgery as the first line of therapy for patients with late-stage kidney cancer.
- Targeted therapies: These drugs help fight the cancer by targeting specific genes and proteins that are involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells. Sometimes, these are combined with immunotherapy for a more effective treatment plan.
- Clinical trials: Patients with specific types of kidney cancer or those that have progressed after certain treatments have access to new or experimental treatments before they are commercially available through our clinical trials at select locations.
- Chemotherapy: Depending on the type of kidney cancer a person has, chemotherapy – usually taken orally – may improve their outcomes.
Radiation therapy for kidney cancer
Stereotactic body radiosurgery (SBRT)
is an emerging non-invasive treatment option
when patients are not good candidates for surgery or needle ablation. This specialized radiation therapy treatment is delivered by CyberKnife
at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital and TrueBeam at other Wellstar locations.
Without incisions, significant down time or anesthesia, SBRT delivers highly targeted, high-dose radiation from multiple X-ray beams from different angles to target the tumor and spare surrounding tissue, organs and nerves. This procedure is completely painless.
Most people with kidney cancer do not have a genetic syndrome. However, people with strong family history of kidney cancer have a higher chance of having a hereditary syndrome. Certain rare subtypes of kidney cancer may have a genetic link.
When someone with kidney cancer has multiple tumors or is diagnosed at an age younger than 50, they may be candidates to have a genetic evaluation. If testing reveals they have a hereditary syndrome, targeted therapies can drastically slow the growth of kidney cancer.
Learn more about Wellstar’s Genetic Risk Assessment Program
People with kidney cancer have an incredible support network at Wellstar, led by their nurse navigator
. These nurses work closely with each patient. These specialized nurses foster communication between people with kidney cancer and their network of specialists and support services so they are supported medically, physically and emotionally during treatment and beyond.
Nurse navigators often work with our patients to connect them to other support services they may need, including:
- Registered oncology dietitians, who help people maximize their nutrition and well-being
- Oncology social workers, who help people undergoing treatment improve their quality of life with counseling
- Oncology psychologists and psychiatrists, who work with people to manage the emotional side of cancer
- Palliative care specialists, who offer complex symptom management
- Physical therapists, who provide rehabilitation services
- Genetic counselors, who help patients with rare syndromes linked to cancer to understand their disease, make informed decisions about treatment and lifestyle choices, and discuss how results may affect their family members
Your support team will be personalized to your individual needs. We’re here to help you and your loved ones face cancer with confidence.