In Hong Kong, there are 600 new cases of renal cancer every year. Although the incidence of renal cancer is not as high as cancers of the intestines or lungs, its prevalence has risen as high as 50% annually.
If the cancer is diagnosed as Stage I, II or III, the most likely initial treatment will be surgical removal of the kidney, where treatment effectiveness can be as high as 90%. For patients with advanced renal cancer or cancer recurrence, targeted therapy may be recommended. In the past, the general treatment approach for renal cancer was removal of the whole kidney (nephrectomy). With more sophisticated surgical advancement in recent years, specialist surgeons now treat renal cancer by removing part of the kidney (partial nephrectomy) as much as possible, so that some functioning kidney can be preserved and left behind. This shall have positive knock-on effects on preserving the quality of life of patients as well.
The kidneys rely on the surrounding blood vessels to function. For this reason, tumours in the kidney can also be easily spread to neighbouring tissues and organs. Patients with renal cancer should attend regular check-ups with their oncology specialists as there are still risks of cancer recurrence post-nephrectomy. In addition, the symptoms of early-stage renal cancer can be hard to detect. As the kidneys are located deep inside our lower abdomen, small kidney tumours are often difficult to be seen or felt during physical examinations. Another issue is that the other healthy, functioning kidney can often compensate for the loss of kidney function. As such, most renal cancer cases are diagnosed in the later stages, with the minority of patients reporting lower back pain and blood in urine.
Fortunately, there are new emerging treatment methods for renal cancer. For example, an mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitor can be used as an anticancer drug for renal cancer. This treatment can help regulate cell metabolism, growth and proliferation. mTOR inhibitors have been shown promising progression-free and overall survival in clinical studies (Hudes, Carducci, Tomczak et al., 2007). Unfortunately, there are multiple side effects associated with such medication, including mouth sores and diarrhoea.