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Signs of Kidney Cancer
Although it doesn’t always draw as much attention as other types of cancer, kidney cancer is one of the 10 most common cancers, especially among people over 55. Over 14,000 Americans will die from the disease this year, but with advancing treatments, many more will extend their life and vitality.
The key, as is the case with most cancers, is to catch the disease early – although many symptoms don’t show up until advanced stages, there are some suspicious physical signs to watch out for that could indicate kidney cancer.
1. Blood in the Urine
Are your trips to the toilet beginning to worry you? Blood in the urine (or hematuria) is the most common symptom of kidney cancer, though this could point to a less serious condition, as well. Blood doesn’t always make urine look bright red – a pink, orange or muddy color can also indicate hematuria, and in other cases, there is such a small amount of blood that only a lab analysis will be able to detect it. In turn, it’s important to see a doctor if you notice a change in the color of your urine along with any signs of inflammation or pain in the kidney area or the bladder.
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2. Persistent Lower Back Pain
The kidneys sit right below your back ribs, so when they become inflamed or infected, this is where you may feel the most pain. Any discomfort or changes in this area should raise suspicions, especially when felt on one side of the body: as the cancer progresses and the tumor grows, it can put pressure on the surrounding nerves.
But pain doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. Low back issues or weak abdominal muscles can lead to strains in this area, which you may confuse with something more serious. The most significant aspect is how long the stabbing pain or nagging ache sticks around – pain that doesn’t go away for two weeks calls for further investigation.
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3. Abdominal Lump
Sometimes inflammation or a growth on the kidney will press forward, causing a lump to protrude from the side of your abdomen. In some cases, the lump will create a visible bulge, but it may be more like a thickened or firm area that can be felt from the outside.
In many cases, the lump is nearly undetectable without the skilled hand of a doctor; once they discover the protrusion, they will order an ultrasound or CT scan to get a better look at it. Lumps should never be ignored, but keep in mind that they can signal a variety of conditions, so don’t assume the worst case scenario.
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In general, cancer saps energy and interferes with metabolism, leading to remarkable exhaustion and fatigue that just won’t go away. Moreover, fatigue can be triggered or worsened by other common cancer symptoms, like insomnia, anemia and depression. Feeling a bit sleepy is one thing, and short bouts of fatigue that can be traced to stress or a few sleepless nights may not be much to worry about, but when your fatigue begins to interfere with your regular everyday activities and responsibilities, your body could be trying to tell you something serious.
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Anemia occurs when your red blood cell levels plummet, and it’s a common side effect of kidney cancer. Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow, but the kidneys make the hormone erythropoietin, which tells the body to produce more red blood cells. As cancer interferes with the kidneys, erythropoietin production suffers, and your low red blood cell count will leave you feeling tired, weak, short of breath, or unfocused. Some people with anemia have a noticeable pallor in their skin and lips, but the symptoms can also be milder.
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6. Loss of Appetite
A change in taste, food aversions, and loss of appetite can be explained by illness or allergies, but they can also point to a deeper issue. As cancer grows in the body, metabolism begins to change, nausea can begin to surface, fatigue leads to inactivity, and anemia (low red blood cell count) drains energy – all of these can leave you feeling less hungry and less interested in food. In some cases of kidney cancer, a loss of appetite will come with a persistent low-grade fever, and the general discomfort can even make your favourite foods unpalatable.
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7. Unexplained Weight Loss
In many cases of kidney cancer, a sudden weight loss naturally follows a decline in appetite, but it can also happen without a drastic change to your regular diet. One explanation is that rapidly growing cancer cells use up a good deal of the body’s energy supply, so you wind up losing weight without trying to do so. Cancer cells can also release substances that change the way your body uses calories, or impair your natural digestion and absorption. Eventually, this weight loss will lead to cachexia (the technical term for muscle wasting).
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8. Swollen Legs
In kidney cancer, liver and ovarian cancers, fluid can begin to build up within the tissues under the skin and above the circulatory system, causing visible swelling in the lower legs and ankles. This is known as edema, and it brings a puffy, heavy feeling that makes it difficult to walk and interferes with your range of motion.
Whether or not you have other symptoms of edema like rapid weight gain or a decreased amount of urine, swelling in the lower extremities is usually a cause for concern, and you need to visit your doctor to rule out a cancerous growth that’s interfering with the natural filtering mechanism of the kidneys.
Fortunately, many cases of kidney cancer are now caught early on, thanks to good patient reporting and routine imaging tests. A protruding lump or massive physical change usually means the cancer has progressed beyond the early stages, but the sooner you notice and report kidney problems, the better for your prognosis. It’s always important to pay attention to any changes in your bathroom habits, but don’t ignore your general comfort, too: in many instances, a seemingly unrelated complaint leads patients to their doctors, and onto a kidney cancer diagnosis.
Read more about symptoms of kidney cancer over at NewLifeOutlook.
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