Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about kidney cancer and kidney cancer screening and prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and follow-up care for kidney cancer.
Screening and Prevention
Q: Do people of all ages get kidney cancer?
Q: How is kidney cancer detected?
There are currently no recommended screening tests for kidney cancer. Kidney tumors can grow without causing pain or symptoms. They are often discovered incidentally during testing or treatment for other diseases. If a family member has been diagnosed with kidney cancer, you may want to speak with your doctor about having a kidney ultrasound to evaluate your own kidneys. Learn more about how kidney cancer is diagnosed
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of kidney cancer?
Common symptoms of kidney cancer include: blood in your urine, a persistent pain in your side, a lump in your side or belly, fever, and severe fatigue. These may also be symptoms of other illnesses. It is important to consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Sometimes, especially in the early stages, kidney cancer can be asymptomatic (no symptoms). Learn more about kidney cancer symptoms
Q: Can kidney cancer be prevented?
Although there is no known way to prevent kidney cancer, lifestyle habits may lessen the risk. These habits include not smoking, losing weight if you are significantly overweight or obese, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding exposure to certain workplace or industrial toxins. According to the American Cancer Society, these include organic solvents (particularly tricholoroethylene), benzene, asbestos, some herbicides and cadmium. A family history of kidney cancer and Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease may also increase your risk. Learn more about kidney cancer prevention tips
Diagnosis and Treatment
Q: Are all kidney tumors cancerous?
No. Some kidney tumors are benign, or non-cancerous. Benign kidney tumors can include renal cysts, renal adenomas, oncocytomas, and angiomyolipomas. Even though these types of benign tumors won’t spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), they can still present problems and need to be treated.
Q: Is surgery always the preferred treatment for kidney cancer?
In most cases of kidney cancer, removing the cancerous tumor only (partial nephrectomy) or the entire kidney (radical nephrectomy) is the preferred treatment. Partial nephrectomy, also known as kidney-sparing surgery, is the preferred treatment whenever possible because it maintains kidney function and reduces other post-surgery complications. Minimally invasive surgery, including laparoscopic and robotic surgery, is used and can reduce recovery time. Cryoablation (freezing of the tumor) is performed on patients as an alternative to surgery. Active surveillance (monitoring the growth of a tumor but not actively treating it) is also sometimes recommended when a tumor is small and/or when patients are elderly or have multiple medical issues. Traditional chemotherapy and radiation have not been proven very effective for kidney cancer. Learn more about kidney cancer treatment
Q: What are targeted therapies?
Targeted therapies are medications that have been developed to block or attack specific molecular and genetic changes in cells that promote cancer cell growth. Because standard chemotherapeutic agents have not proven effective in slowing the progression of advanced kidney cancer, these drugs (also referred to as signal transduction inhibitors) are often used as first-line treatment. There is no established protocol for targeted drug treatment as yet, and each drug has its own set of side effects. Physicians usually try one drug at a time or in combination with others. These drugs include sorafenib (Nexavar®), sunitinib (Sutent®), temsirolimus (Torisel®), everolimus (Afinitor®), and bevacizumab (Avastin®).
Q: What are biologic drugs?
Biologic drugs are designed to boost the body’s immune system so that it can destroy cancer cells. The agents used most frequently for advanced kidney cancer are interleukin-2 (IL-2) and interferon-alpha. These drugs have serious side effects and are difficult to administer so they are generally used after other options have been exhausted.
Q: What should I do following surgical treatment for kidney cancer?
After surgery, your physician will want to see you for regular check-ups, generally every six to 12 months, or more frequently. The frequency of these exams will be based upon your diagnostic profile and the pathology of your tumor, among other factors. At these visits, an imaging study, consisting of an MRI, CT scan, or renal ultrasound will be performed. As patients do not generally experience any symptoms post-surgery, it is imperative that an imaging study be done on a regular basis.
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