If you’re worried you might have kidney cancer, we know it can be upsetting and distracting. At Central Maine Health, we understand not knowing can be the most difficult experience. That’s why we’re focused on providing the expert medical attention you need to get a diagnosis as quickly and accurately as possible.
Screening for Kidney Cancer
A screening test is used to find cancer before symptoms appear. While there are no recommended screening tests for kidney cancer in people who are at average risk, there are symptoms you should be aware of. And even though these symptoms are more often caused by conditions that are not cancer, you should still see your doctor.
Symptoms that may indicate kidney cancer include:
- Blood in your urine, which may appear pink, red or cola colored
- Low back pain on one side (not caused by injury)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss not caused by dieting
- Fever, which usually comes and goes (intermittent)
- Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
Screening for People at Higher Risk for Kidney Cancer
Some people inherit from their parents conditions that put them at higher risk for the disease. If you’re at a higher risk, your doctor may recommend regular imaging tests like MRI, CT or ultrasound scans to look for kidney tumors. When these are found early, kidney cancer can often be cured.
Talk to your doctor if anyone in your family (blood relatives) currently has kidney cancer or had it in the past, especially at a younger age. Also, you may be advised to have genetic testing done if you have a family history of inherited conditions linked to this cancer. These conditions include von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, and Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD) syndrome.
Genetic testing cannot detect kidney cancer. It can only tell you if you’re at a higher risk for the disease. If you are at higher risk, your doctor may recommend regular testing. It’s important to note that a genetic test that shows you may be at higher risk does not mean you will get cancer. If genetic testing is recommended by your doctor, our genetic counselors will help you understand what the test means for you.
Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
If your doctor suspects you may have kidney cancer, he will want to get more information. First, he will want to ask questions about your symptoms and learn more about your medical history. He will also want to give you a physical exam to see if anything feels abnormal in your abdomen and to check for other signs of cancer or other health problems. He may also order one or more of the following tests:
Blood and/or Urine Tests
A sample of your blood or urine is examined to show if there may be any problems with your kidneys. The tests cannot show whether or not you have cancer for certain, but they do provide your doctor the information he needs to determine next steps in your diagnosis.
There are many varieties of imaging tests, but all use either x-rays, sound waves, radioactive substances or magnetic fields to create pictures of the inside of the body. They help your doctor look at areas he suspects may be cancer, to see how far cancer has spread, and/or to help find out if treatment is working. Examples of these tests include computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, ultrasound, chest x-rays and bone scans.
If imaging tests are not clear enough, a biopsy can help your doctor determine if an area may be cancerous. In this case, he’ll remove a small sample of tissue, often with a needle. This sample is sent to a pathologist, who will look for any signs of cancer.
Guiding You Every Step of the Way
If you are diagnosed with kidney cancer, Central Maine Healthcare is here to support you and your family. Our nurse navigators work with you from your first appointment, helping you through your journey. They can provide or connect you with a wide variety of support services, including financial counseling, shuttle services, free lodging for family members at Arbor House, nutritional support and educational resources.