Kidney cancer, one of the 10 most common cancers in Singapore, can go undetected for a long time as the cancer can develop without symptoms.
Heed the signs
But as with most cancers, early detection is key to survival, which hinges on how far the cancer has spread, said Dr Henry Ho, a consultant urologist at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). “If the cancer is confined to the kidneys, more than 90 per cent of patients will be alive after five years”, he said. “However, if the cancer has spread to other organs, more than 90 per cent of patients die within the next five years.”
Warning signs are blood in the urine, back pain and a lump in the abdominal area. In the later stages, sufferers may complain of pain in their bones, breathlessness, coughing and yellow skin from jaundice. About 20 per cent of patients are diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer – late-stage cancer in which the cancerous cells have spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment for kidney cancer
Surgery is the best treatment for kidney cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for late-stage cancer is tricky. Kidney cancer does not respond well to both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, said Dr Ho. Instead, immunotherapy, which marshals the body’s own cells to fight the cancer, is used. Another option is molecular targeted therapy, which has been in use in the last three years. “This method has been shown to be useful in improving the survival of patients with metastatic kidney cancer by more than six months,” said Dr Ho. “It works by blocking blood supply to cancer cells, thus preventing their growth.” About 10 to 15 per cent of kidney cancer patients receive this therapy, he added.
Imaging tests for screening
Dr Ho advised that people go for screening tests, as kidney cancer is usually detected through imaging tests such as computed tomography scan and magnetic resonance imaging. Screening is especially vital for smokers, as cigarette smoking doubles the risk of kidney cancer. Dialysis patients with multiple kidney cysts are also at a higher risk, said Dr Ho.
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