Understanding the Spread: Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma

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  • What Is Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma?

    What Is Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma?

    Renal cell carcinoma, also called kidney cancer, occurs when cancer cells form in the tubules of the kidney. Tubules are tiny tubes in the kidney that help filter waste products from the blood in order to make urine.

    Smoking, hypertension, obesity, and hepatitis C are all risk factors for renal cell carcinoma. Renal cell carcinoma becomes metastatic renal cell carcinoma when it spreads beyond the kidney to the lymph system, bones, or other organs.

  • How the Cancer Spreads

    How the Cancer Spreads

    Renal cell carcinoma can spread from a mass of cancer cells or tumor to other parts of the body in one of three ways:

    • More cancer cells grow in the tissue around the tumor.
    • The cancer moves into the lymph system, which has vessels throughout the body.
    • Kidney cancer cells enter the bloodstream and are carried and deposited to another organ or location in the body.
  • Symptoms of Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma

    Symptoms of Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma

    When renal cell carcinoma is in its early stages, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience obvious symptoms. Noticeable symptoms are often a sign that the disease has metastasized.

    Symptoms typically include:

    • blood in the urine
    • pain on one side of the lower back
    • lump in the back or side
    • weight loss
    • fatigue
    • fever
  • Lab Tests

    Lab Tests

    A physical exam and a review of your medical history may prompt further testing to determine the health of your kidneys. A urinalysis cannot confirm kidney cancer, but it can help reveal the health of your kidneys. In some cases, a urinalysis suggests that the cancer has spread to other body parts.

    Another useful lab test is a complete blood count (CBC), which includes a count of your red and white blood cell levels. Abnormal levels suggest a possible risk of cancer.


  • Imaging


    Imaging tests are used by doctors to find the location and size of a tumor. Screenings helps doctors determine if the cancer has spread. Computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screenings are especially helpful in helping physicians diagnose kidney cancer.

    Chest X-rays and bone scans can be used to see whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Imaging also is a useful tool to determine if a particular treatment is working.


  • The Stages of Kidney Cancer

    The Stages of Kidney Cancer

    Renal cell carcinoma is classified in one of four stages:

    • stages 1 and 2: cancer is present only in the kidney
    • stage 3: the cancer has spread to a lymph node near the kidney or in a main kidney blood vessel or fatty tissue around the kidney
    • stage 4: the cancer has spread to another organ or other lymph nodes or tissue
  • Treating Metastatic Renal Cell Surgically

    Treating Metastatic Renal Cell Surgically

    Kidney cancer surgery is often reserved for stage 1 or 2. Stage 3 cancers can also be operated on, but the extent to which the cancer has spread will determine if surgery is a possibility.

    Surgery to remove cancerous growths in stage 4 cancer can be done. It usually includes drug therapy too. For some patients, a single surgery is done to remove the tumor from the kidney and the metastasized tumors from other locations in the body.


  • Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy

    Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy

    In addition to surgery, two other common treatments are available: immunotherapy and chemotherapy.

    In immunotherapy, drugs are given to boost a patient’s immune system to fight off the cancer. Chemotherapy involves the use of a pill or injections to kill the cancer cells. But, it carries side effects, and usually requires additional treatments such as a surgery.

  • Prevention


    Renal cell carcinoma usually strikes older adults, so a healthy lifestyle now can increase your chances of avoiding this disease later on.

    Smoking is easily the main risk factor for renal cell carcinoma. If you never start smoking, or quit soon, you have a better chance of avoiding renal cell carcinoma.

    Manage your blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medications, if necessary, and control your weight to help preserve kidney health.