Stage 4 Renal Cell Carcinoma: Metastasis, Survival Rates, and Treatment

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  • What Is Renal Cell Carcinoma?

    What Is Renal Cell Carcinoma?

    Renal cell carcinoma (RCC), also called renal cell cancer or renal cell adenocarcinoma, is a common type of kidney cancer.

    Several types of cancers that start in the kidney, but about 90 percent of kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas, according to the American Cancer Society.

    RCC usually begins as a tumor growing in one kidney. It can also develop in both kidneys. The disease is more common in men than it is in women, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

  • How It Spreads

    How It Spreads

    If a cancerous tumor is discovered in one of your kidneys, the usual treatment is to remove that kidney surgically. The risk is that the cancer may spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body.

    The spread of cancer is called metastasis. In the case of RCC, the tumor can invade a large vein leading out of the kidney. It can also spread to the lymph system and other organs, and the lungs are especially vulnerable.

  • TMN Staging System

    TMN Staging System

    Kidney cancer is described in stages developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer. The system is better known as the TMN system.

    The “T” refers to the tumor. Doctors assign a “T” number from one to three, based on the size and growth of the tumor. An “N” describes whether the cancer has spread to a node in the lymph system. The “M” means the cancer has metastasized.

  • Stages of Kidney Cancer

    Stages of Kidney Cancer

    Doctors also assign RCC a stage based on the size of the tumor and the spread of the cancer.

    There are four stages. Stages 1and 2 describe cancers in which the tumor is still in the kidney. Stage 2 kidney cancer means that tumor is growing and is larger than seven cm across.

    Stages 3 and 4 kidney cancer mean the cancer has spread: either into a major vein, to lymph nodes, or to other organs.


  • Defining Stage 4 RCC

    Defining Stage 4 RCC

    Stage 4 renal cell carcinoma is the most advanced form of the disease. Stage 4 means that the cancer has metastasized to the lymph system or other organs. Because the adrenal gland is attached to the kidney, the cancer often spreads there first.

    Stage 4 kidney cancer also means that the cancer may have spread into more than one lymph node near the kidney or elsewhere in the body.


  • Survival Rates

    Survival Rates

    Five-year survival rates for renal cell carcinoma are based on the percentage of patients who live at least five years with the disease after it’s been diagnosed.

    The American Cancer Society reports the following five-year survival rates:

    • stage 1: 81 percent
    • stage 2: 74 percent
    • stage 3: 53 percent
    • stage 4: 8 percent
  • Surgical Treatment

    Surgical Treatment

    Stage 1 RCC may be treated with surgery. However, by the time the cancer has advanced to stage 4, surgery is often not an option. If the tumor and metastasis can be isolated, surgical removal of the cancerous tissue may still be possible. If the cancer has spread to the lungs, partial lung removal may eliminate the cancer.

    If you have stage 4 RCC, your doctor will consider your overall health to determine your eligibility for major surgery.

  • Other Therapies

    Other Therapies

    If surgery isn’t a realistic option to treat stage 4 RCC, other therapies may help. One approach is embolization, which is the blocking of blood flow to cancer cells. However, there is a risk that the substance that blocks the blood flow will also interfere with circulation to healthy cells.

    Another option is radiation therapy. This therapy uses high-energy radiation to target cancer cells. But, it’s not usually successful when the cancer has spread to many locations.


  • Be Proactive

    Be Proactive

    The best way to beat stage 4 RCC is to aggressively treat the cancer before it gets to stage 4. If you’re in stage 4 RCC, remember that published survival rates are averages. You may live longer than the average stage 4 patient may.

    The key is to follow your doctor’s advice. Go to your appointments, take your medications, and make whatever lifestyle changes you need to make, including quitting smoking.