Kidney cancer treatment differs from the line of treatment required for other forms of cancer. However, a majority of people are unaware of the fact that cancer treatment depends on the location, type and severity of cancer.
Kidneys are an important pair of organs that not only help with blood filtration and purification, but also with control of blood pressure and production of red blood cells. Cancer may affect the functioning of the kidneys, thus warranting a need for an urgent kidney cancer treatment.
The most common form of cancer that may affect the kidneys is renal cell carcinoma. It is characterized by a single or multiple tumor within one or both the kidneys at the same time. Some other forms of kidney cancer include benign (non-cancerous) kidney tumor and transitional cell carcinoma.
Although people may think that they always need one pair of kidneys for their bodies to function properly, they must know that there are millions of people around the world that live normally with just one kidney. In fact, there are a million others who do not have a functional kidney and depend on a procedure called dialysis for blood purification.
Despite the fact that kidney cancer patients can survive their entire life on just one kidney after treatment, a majority of people get scared at the mere word “cancer.” As a result, they tend to make every effort look for best kidney cancer treatment possible. Such patients are often surrounded by several misconceptions about kidney cancer treatment procedures and diagnosis.
The following are some of the common misconceptions surrounding kidney cancer treatment that everyone must be clear about.
Kidney cancer may spread from one kidney to another
A majority of people fear that cancer in one kidney may spread to the other kidney at some point in life. Such people must know that the likelihood of cancer spreading from one kidney to the other is rare. Even though the two organs are placed next to each other, tumors are not likely to spread between the two bean-shaped organs located in the abdominal area on each side of the spine.
In rare cases, however, patients may get cancer in both the kidneys. This primarily occurs when the patient is genetically predisposed to reasons that increases the risk of tumor growth in both the kidneys.
Kidney cancer cannot affect other organs
There are chances that the tumor spreads from the kidney to other sites in the body. Depending on the size and growth rate of the tumor, the cancer may travel through the bloodstream and end up affecting the bones, brain, liver, lungs, adrenal glands or some other organs.
It the tumor remains unchecked, the cancer cells may also enter the lymphatic system and affect lymph nodes. Therefore, it is important to diagnose kidney cancer during the early stage to prevent it from spreading.
All patients with tumor in their kidneys require immediate treatment
This is one of the biggest misconceptions associated with kidney cancer. Not all patients with tumors in their kidneys require immediate medical treatment, or any treatment for that matter. Sometimes, the doctor may just conduct some regular tests and wait to see if the tumor is getting bigger is size or if the condition is worsening before any medical intervention. In other cases, the tumor may just be non-malignant or benign.
This kind of strategy is known as active surveillance or watchful waiting and is most recommended for older adults who so not have the strength to undergo medical treatment and those with some other serious illness such as heart disease or chronic lung disease that can intervene with kidney cancer treatment.
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Like some other forms of cancer, radiation therapy can be used as primary treatment for kidney cancer
Radiation therapy may be conducted to destroy kidney cancer cells. However, it is never used as the first line of treatment in case of kidney cancer. It is never used by the doctors alone to treat tumor because of its potential to cause damage to healthy areas of the kidneys.
Radiation treatment such as external-beam radiation therapy is only used when a patient cannot undergo a surgery. In addition, it is only used to target the kidney cancer tumor spread to other locations in the body and never on the primary location of the tumor in the kidney. As a result, radiation therapy only helps relieve the symptoms associated with the spread of the tumor to other locations, including swelling in the brain and pain in the bones.
Surgery is often recommended as the first line of treatment for all kidney cancer patients
While surgery procedures such as radial nephrectomy and partial nephrectomy are the most common form of treatment for kidney cancer patients, it would be untrue to say that these are recommended as a first line of treatment for all patients. Depending on the age and health of an individual and characteristics of the tumor, the doctor may decide to use alternative techniques to surgical removal of the kidney tumor.
Two such procedures include radiofrequency ablation (RFA) and cryoablation. In RFA, a needle is used to electrically kill the cancer cells by inserting it into the tumor. This procedure takes place under the influence of local anesthesia. In cryoablation, a metal probe is used to freeze the cancer cells. This procedure takes place under the influence of general anesthesia.
In addition, patients may be advised to undertake targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Targeted therapy attacks cancer proteins that makes them grow and spread, without affecting the healthy tissues and cells. Immunotherapy works by improving immune function and boosting patient’s natural defense system against cancer cells.
Chemotherapy may also be advised, but only in combination with other forms of treatment.
A biopsy is conducted as a part of kidney cancer diagnosis and treatment
Most often, cancer patients expect a biopsy to be conducted as a part of diagnosis or usual cancer care. However, in case of kidney cancer, biopsies are usually not conducted and are hence not a part of usual kidney care. This is because the tumor can be easily removed with the help of minimally invasive surgical procedures.
Kidney function is totally lost when the tumor is surgically removed
The percentage loss of kidney function before or after the treatment depends on the type and size of tumor, the extent of cancer and the type of treatment used to get rid of the tumor.
There are two types of surgeries that can be conducted in case of kidney cancer, depending on the extent of damage. The loss of kidney function depends on these two types of surgery.
In case of radical nephrectomy, the doctor surgically removed the entire kidney and the surrounding tissues affected by tumor cells. The doctor may even remove the part of lymph nodes or adrenal glands affected by the cancerous growth. Since this surgery is conducted when there is only a little healthy tissue left in the kidney, the loss of kidney function is considerably more.
In case of partial nephrectomy, only the tumor is removed, Hence, the kidney function is not lost and this type of surgery helps cut the risk of developing chronic kidney disease.
Both these types of surgeries can be conducted manually or with the help of a robot or a laparoscope.
All kidney cancer patients require dialysis at some point of time
Dialysis is a procedure during which a machine that works as “artificial kidney” is attached to the body of the kidney cancer patient with total loss of renal function. The dialysis machine pumps the blood out of the body of the patient, purifies it and then returns it back to the body of the patient.
Dialysis is, thus, required only by patients with no natural renal function. Since blood purification is a must, this procedure is required to be conducted for at least three times a week.
Radial nephrectomy increases the risk of total renal function loss, thus increasing the need for dialysis. Patients who get treated by partial nephrectomy are able to recover quickly after the treatment and also have their kidney function intact. Thus, such patients do not require dialysis.
Kidney transplantation is the last resort of treatment for patients with kidney failure
Contrary to popular belief, kidney transplantation is actually the first line of treatment for patients with total loss of renal function and renal or kidney failure. For patient who meet the criteria for kidney transplantation, it is one of the best long-term solution available in the medical world.
The second option is dialysis, however, the procedure must be taken every other day for blood to be purified on time. Scarcity of donated kidneys for transplantation leaves dialysis as the only treatment option for patients with loss of kidney function.
Kidney cancer treatment never fails
Despite all efforts, kidney cancer treatment may fail and the cancer may reappear in the same location or some other organ. In case that happens, the doctor may again conduct a series of tests to know more about recurrent cancer and treatment may be initiated again.
In case all attempts to save the kidneys go for a toss and the cancer cannot be controlled and cured, the patient may think about palliative care. Hospice care helps provide quality of life for patients suffering from terminal or advanced disease.