The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs in the abdomen that produce urine. They also make substances to help control blood pressure and promote the production of red blood cells.
Abnormal cells in the kidneys can grow into tumors. While some kidney tumors are benign, most are cancers. More than 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with kidney cancer this year.
The kidney surgeons at Swedish are experts in robotic partial nephrectomy, which removes the tumor, but leaves as much of the kidney as possible intact.
People often go to their primary-care doctor or the emergency room because of something abnormal – blood in the urine or unexplained side pain. They are then usually referred to a urologist, a specialist who does surgical management of the urinary tract.
Other less common symptoms include:
- A lump or mass in the side or abdomen
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Feeling very tired
Diagnostic tests may include:
- Urine and blood tests
- Ultrasound screening
- CT or MRI scan
Cancer falls into stages 1 through 4, with 1 being the earliest stage. Determining the stage of the cancer is key to providing the best possible treatment. Staging involves determining:
- The size of the tumor
- Whether the cancer has invaded nearby tissues
- How much the cancer has spread
The specialists at the Swedish Cancer Institute have a wide range of staging technology available to them.
Surgery is the most common treatment for kidney cancer. Because the kidneys are so important to the body, the goal is to leave as much of the functioning kidney in place as possible. Removing a part of the kidney is called a partial nephrectomy.
Methods for this procedure include:
- Open surgery, which gains access to the kidney through a large incision in the abdomen
- Laparoscopic surgery, which involves inserting rigid instruments into the abdomen through small incisions
- Robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery, an advancement over standard laparoscopy because of its enhanced optics and flexible surgical tools
Swedish has long experience and great outcomes in performing robotic partial nephrectomy. Patients who have this procedure typically experience less pain, less blood loss and a quicker recovery than they would with an open procedure.
If surgery is not the best option because of age or other health problems, other possible procedures for small tumors include:
- Cryotherapy through one small incision to freeze and kill the tumor
- Radiofrequency ablation through one small incision to kill the tumor with heat
When cancer has spread beyond the kidneys, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and biological therapies are available to help shrink a tumor or slow its growth.
The Swedish Cancer Institute is a regional referral center. Our multidisciplinary cancer team works together to properly diagnose and treat people with all stages of kidney cancer.
The Cancer Institute offers a full spectrum of care and services, from promising new treatments in clinical trials to patient support services that include counseling and group therapy.