Kidney Cancer: Anatomy, Types, Causes, and Treatments

Kidney Cancer: Anatomy, Types, Causes, and Treatments

Here we provide an overview of the anatomy of the kidney, as well as the different types, causes, risk factors, symptoms and treatments for kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer develops when abnormal kidney cells begin mutating and growing uncontrollably and more rapidly than normal cells. A mass of cancerous cells is called a malignant tumour, or more simply, cancer.

Usually, cancer occurs in just one kidney, but it can occur in both in rare cases. Cancer cells in the kidney can spread by breaking away from localised tumours to nearby parts of the body, such as the neighbouring lymph nodes and the adrenal glands, lungs, bones, and liver.

What Are The Kidneys?

The kidneys are vital organs that filter water and other waste products from your blood, produce urine and hormones, and maintain levels of minerals in your bloodstream. They are about 10cm in size and bean-shaped. They are located in the upper back of the abdomen.

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Types of Kidney Cancer

There are several subtypes of kidney cancer based on the appearance of the malignant cells and other factors. Roughly 90 per cent of kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas (RCC).

The three most common types of renal cell carcinomas are:

Clear cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of RCC, accounting for about 75% of cases. When viewed under a microscope, the cancerous cells appear clear, and are shaped like bubbles.

Papillary renal cell carcinoma: This is less common, accounting for roughly 10–15% of RCC cases. When viewed under a microscope, the cancerous cells look like small finger-like fronds called papillae. PRCC can actually be split into two types – type 1, which is more common and slower-growing, and type 2, which is typically the more aggressive kind.

Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma: This type is even less common, accounting for a mere 5% of cases. When viewed under a microscope, the cancerous cells appear large and pale. This subgroup of kidney cancer develops in the cells lining the small tubules in the kidney, which help filtrate waste from the blood, and also produce urine.

Other kidney cancers include translocation carcinomas, sarcomatoid carcinoma, and urothelial carcinoma, amongst other rare types.


Causes and Risk Factors of Kidney Cancer

Like other forms of the disease, we don’t know exactly what causes kidney cancer. However, there are several risk factors associated with its occurrence and development:

• Family history – those with a family member who had kidney cancer have a slightly increased risk of the disease.

• Gender – males are more likely to get kidney cancer

Smoking is a major risk factor for kidney cancer, particularly prolonged smoking

• Obesity can increase the risk of kidney cancer

• Having high blood pressure can increase the risk of kidney cancer

• Exposure to asbestos or cadmium, usually work-related

• Prolonged or advanced kidney disease

• Inherited conditions – a small number of kidney cancers occur in people with particular inherited conditions such as Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease, hereditary papillary RCC and Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome.

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Treatment of Kidney Cancer

The treatment of kidney cancer depends on its growth and the extent of the tumour. Surgery is the most common treatment:

Surgery Nephrectomy is a surgical procedure to remove either part or all of the kidney to treat cancer.

Radical: Radical nephrectomy involves removing the whole kidney, along with a section of the ureter, the adrenal gland, which sits atop the kidney, and the fatty tissue surrounding the kidney. If both kidneys need to be removed, this is called bilateral nephrectomy.

Partial: Partial nephrectomy involves removing only the diseased or injured portion of the kidney. This is suitable if the cancer is present in both kidneys, is in its early stages and is small (less than 4 cm), or if the patient has just one working kidney.

Chemotherapy – No real chemotherapy agents work well with kidney cancer. We use targeted therapies called Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (TKI) to help in the setting of metastatic disease.

Other agents like chemotherapy and various antibodies are being investigated in clinical trials.

Treating Kidney Cancer with Urology Specialist

Dr Arianayagam is an expert in the field of urological cancer surgery, including robotic surgery and laparoscopic surgery for the treatment of kidney cancer. He is one of the most experienced robotic surgeons in Sydney.

In particular, Dr Arianayagam specialises in laparoscopic and robotic partial nephrectomy, where a diseased portion of the kidney is removed, leaving the rest of the organ intact.

He also performs zero ischaemia partial nephrectomy, where the artery to the kidney is not clamped. This has the advantage of having no ischaemia to the kidney and hence improved function. It is even more challenging than the traditional laparoscopic approach due to the risk of increased bleeding.

If you have any further questions about kidney cancer and would like to book an appointment, please feel free to call.

Want to learn more about what Urology Specialist can help with? Check out these posts below:

Prostate Cancer and what you need to know

Smoking and its urological impacts

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