What You Can Expect After A Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
If you are diagnosed with cancer in a kidney, you may lose that kidney. But is your other kidney also at risk? Learn more about what to expect from renal cancer treatment.
A diagnosis of kidney cancer comes with a flood of questions regarding treatment, outcomes and lifestyle changes. And on top of all that come the common worries: Will the cancer spread and what happens if it does?
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Luckily, for most patients, the cancer is not likely to spread to the other kidney and you may not lose a kidney at all, says urologist Rajan Ramanathan, MD.
There are three main ways cancer spreads through the body:
Because the kidneys aren’t next to each other, there is little chance that your cancer will move from one to the other.
The likelihood, however, that cancer may spread to another organ depends on size and growth rate. Tumors that are larger or fast-growing are more apt to spread to other parts of the body, Dr. Ramanathan says. Early diagnosis also is a key factor in preventing cancer in the kidney from spreading.
Kidney cancer management falls into two categories:
Dr. Ramanathan says he treats more than 90 percent of his patients today with the minimally invasive partial nephrectomy, in which he removes the tumor and a small portion of the surrounding kidney.
If the tumor is very large or if it looks like it will be difficult to reconstruct the kidney, your doctor may treat you with a radical nephrectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the tumor, kidney and surrounding structures.
Dr. Ramanathan says he uses a radical nephrectomy for fewer patients mainly because it is more likely to damage long-term renal function and increases the risk that the patient will need dialysis.
Two treatments that patients might expect when diagnosed with cancer — radiation and biopsies — are not usually part of kidney care.
Radiation doesn’t work well with most kidney cancers, Dr. Ramanathan says. Instead, surgery is the gold standard, which provides excellent results.
He says he rarely biopsies kidney tumors. He removes most tumors successfully with minimally invasive surgery, so a biopsy isn’t necessary.
Tumors aren’t likely to spread between kidneys. But in certain rare cases, you may get cancer in both.
Dr. Ramanathan says cancer can appear for the first time in a second kidney. This also happens if you are at high risk because you have one of the following conditions:
Both are genetic conditions that increase the risk of tumors growing in both kidneys at some point.