Kidney cancer ranks as the tenth-most-common form of cancer in the United States, with almost 80,000 men and women diagnosed with one form of the disease every year. Early detection changes your prognosis significantly, but since people know less about this disease, you might not know what to look for.
At Urological Associates in Charlottesville, Virginia, our board-certified providers want you to understand the signs of kidney cancer you need to take seriously. Getting diagnosed as early as possible makes treatment most effective.
Most early-stage kidney cancer is diagnosed when people have a test or imaging study for another issue or condition. However, symptoms can and do make an appearance as the disease progresses. Here’s what to look for:
1. Anemia and fatigue
Cancers of all kinds can trigger fatigue as your body combats the disease and it affects your body systems. Kidney cancer triggers anemia in about a third of people with the disease.
This is because your kidneys produce a protein that plays a role in the production of red blood cells. Anemia causes you to have a low red blood cell count and, as a result, fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, and other symptoms.
2. Blood in your urine
Hematuria, or blood in your urine, is another common sign of kidney cancer. Since many different conditions can trigger this, it’s easy to dismiss. However, seeing blood in your urine is never something to ignore.
Blood in the urine from kidney cancer may come and go. It could be dark and noticeable or only detectable in a urine test. Bottom line: Schedule an appointment at Urological Associates if you notice hematuria.
3. Flank pain
Most cases of flank pain have a simple explanation, like a pulled muscle or overuse. But the pressure of a growing tumor and inflammation in your kidneys from cancer can also trigger pain and discomfort in your sides, back, or abdomen.
If your flank pain doesn’t go away or improve with rest, over-the-counter medications, massage, physical therapy, and other treatments, schedule a scan or other imaging test to look for a cause.
4. A mass or lump
Kidney cancer can cause inflammation in your kidneys, so you may feel a mass or lump on the side of your abdomen. You might also feel a growing tumor in more advanced stages.
5. Weight loss
Unintentional weight loss is another sign that you might have a serious illness, like kidney cancer. This occurs when you’re not trying to lose weight but your body weight drops by 5% (or more) in 6-12 months.
If you experience unintentional weight loss like this, be sure to see your provider as soon as possible. Other serious diseases may also trigger this symptom, and it should never be ignored.
What to do if you notice signs of kidney cancer
If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, don’t panic. Other non-cancerous conditions can also trigger similar symptoms. However, it’s important to schedule an appointment as soon as possible with a provider to get to the root cause of your symptoms, as these conditions may also require treatment.
There isn’t a special kidney cancer screening, so your Urological Associates provider may order a series of tests to determine whether your symptoms are caused by kidney cancer, including:
- Diagnostic imaging tests (e.g., MRI)
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
If you’re diagnosed with kidney cancer, your treatment plan depends on several factors, including the stage and type of cancer you have. Most patients undergo surgery as part of their treatment, and your Urological Associates provider uses minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery whenever possible.
A cancer diagnosis is always scary, but keep in mind that tremendous advances are being made in the treatment of kidney cancer, including the use of human monoclonal antibodies and other therapies that improve your prognosis with less harmful side effects compared to traditional cancer treatments. Learn more about the signs of kidney cancer or meet with a provider to review your symptoms by scheduling an appointment at Urological Associates.