Kidney Cancer Awareness Month

By TRA Radiologist
Eli Tate, MD

March is Kidney Cancer Awareness month and our team at Triad Radiology wanted to take the opportunity to shed some light not only on a disease that is on the rise the United States, but also on what our radiologists offer both in terms of diagnosis and treatment.

Our kidneys are the janitors, so to speak, of our body. Functions include:

  • Removing waste products, drugs, and toxins from our blood
  • Maintaining the balance of electrolytes and fluid to keep us healthy
  • Releasing certain hormones which regulate blood pressure
  • Signaling the body to make more red blood cells
  • Producing vitamin D for healthy bones and teeth.

It is hard to believe, but our body can maintain all of these things with just one kidney if necessary.

Kidney cancer is a group of malignancies that will account for over 79,000 cases in the US this year and is among the top 10 cancers in adults. It affects men slightly more than women and mainly in adults over the age of 45, however kidney cancer also accounts for 6% of pediatric malignant tumors. Most cancers occur spontaneously with risk factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure, but there are some hereditary syndromes which increase the risk, such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease.

About 25% of kidney tumor growths are benign, including oncocytoma and angiomyolipoma, and the most common kidney lesion is a benign cyst which can be simple or complicated. Distinguishing between these benign lesions and true cancer is incredibly vital and where radiology plays a key role.

There is no set screening test or age for kidney cancer unless a patient has a hereditary/genetic predisposition. Physical symptoms that lead to further investigation include:

  • hematuria (bloody urine)
  • Abnormal lab results
  • Flank pain/abdominal fullness
  • Fatigue, weight loss, fever
  • Paraneoplastic syndromes

That is why it is important to see your doctor regularly. After seeing a primary care provider or Urologist, they can order a CT scan of the abdomen with contrast or an MRI if CT contrast isn’t an option for the patient. These studies are interpreted by our sub-specialist radiologists here at Triad Imaging. If the screening scan is positive, additional scans may or may not be recommended.

Imaging is often definitive in diagnosing Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC). In instances where the imaging is inconclusive, but suspicious, our team of interventional radiologists can perform an outpatient biopsy of the lesions using imaging guidance (ultrasound or CT) to obtain tissue to confirm or refute the diagnosis.

Following a diagnosis of RCC, an individual plan of action will usually be formulated by a team of physicians including a Urologist, Oncologist, Surgeon, and Radiologist. This team approach offers the highest level of care to address each individual patient.

Treatment options include:

  • Ablation for local tumors (radiofrequency/cryotherapy) performed by interventional radiologists
  • Active surveillance/conservative management
  • Partial nephrectomy or removal of a part of the kidney
  • Total nephrectomy
  • Systemic immunotherapy

Of note, RCC is not responsive to radiation oncology or traditional chemotherapy in most cases.

As with most cancers, early discovery and active management are keys to improved results. Don’t hesitate to contact your PCP or our team at Triad Radiology for any questions