Learning About Kidney Cancer
- Michelle Staveley, 52, was diagnosed with kidney cancer after going to her doctor for constant acid reflux issues.
- According to one of our experts, kidney cancer is most often found when doctors are performing scans for a reason other than suspected kidney cancer.
- Early kidney cancers don’t usually have symptoms. That’s why it’s important to stay up to date on checkups and speak with a doctor about any inexplicable or concerning changes to your health.
- Since kidney cancer may or may not cause symptoms, it’s important to always advocate for your health. One of our experts says people should always be in tune with their bodies and know they are not the statistic
When Staveley realized her acid reflux wasn’t normal, she kept going to the doctors to try to figure out what was wrong.Read More
“When they told me I had cancer, I just burst into tears, my husband was crying too,” she said. “My grown-up children, Harry and Olivia, were devastated, we are a very close family.”
Advocating for Your Health
Understandably so, Staveley and her family were shocked by the whole thing. Just a day prior to her diagnosis, she had completed a 40-mile bike ride. Everyone thought she was healthy.
“It was a real shock because I was so fit and healthy,” Staveley said. “They think I’d had it there for a few years because it grows 2cm a year and they think I’d masked it because I was so fit and healthy. We’ve always been fit and healthy as a family. We’re always out biking and walking and there were no obvious signs.
“People sometimes say ‘Oh I’d thought you’d lost weight’ but there was none of that.”
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For treatment, Staveley needed a six-hour surgery to remove her left kidney and a nearly 4-inch tumor, which had spread to her renal vein. She was supposed to have immunotherapy after that, but a subsequent Crohn’s disease diagnosis led doctors to advise her to avoid the treatment. Now, she undergoes regular scans to make sure the cancer has not returned.
“The doctors said we needed to act urgently and within a month my kidney was out, and I was home,” she said. “It’s thanks to advances in research and treatments that I’m here and can enjoy more special moments with my children and all my family and friends.
“If I had this 20 years ago the outcome would have been very different.”
Staveley is now enjoying remission but determined to make a difference. In sharing her story, she’s hoping to raise money for cancer research and inspire others faced with the disease.
“The last few months have been traumatic, but I’m here. I want to be an inspiration to others,” she said. “It’s been hard, but I did it. I don’t know anyone with kidney cancer, but I want to show people that, like me, they can get through this.”
Finding Kidney Cancer
Kidney cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, is among the 10 most common cancers in both men and women. The ACS predicts about 81,800 new cases of kidney cancer (52,360 in men and 29,440 in women) will be diagnosed in the United States in 2023. The disease is generally found in older people, with an average age of diagnosis at 64.
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Kidney cancers generally don’t cause symptoms in early stages, but possible signs and symptoms of this cancer include:
- Hematuria, blood in the urine
- Inexplicable low back pain on one side
- A lump on the side or lower back
- Loss of appetite
- Inexplicable weight loss
- Inexplicable fever
- Anemia, a low red blood cell count
These symptoms are not exclusive to kidney cancer, and, interestingly enough, one of our experts says most kidney cancers are actually diagnosed by accident nowadays.
“Traditionally, kidney cancer was diagnosed in people coming in with blood in the urine, a mass [in the] belly that was big enough that you could feel, or pain on that side,” Dr. Geoffrey Sonn, a urologic oncologist with Stanford Hospital and Clinics, told SurvivorNet. “More recently – because of the great increase in the use of imaging with ultrasound, CAT scans, MRI – most kidney cancers [are] diagnosed incidentally, meaning a scan is done for another reason.”
I Wanted My Doctor To Like Me, Then He Missed My Cancer
Patients without symptoms might get their cancer diagnosis after scans are done for unrelated reasons, and others might find out they have cancer after a scan is done to investigate abdominal pain or some other issue. Either way, it’s important to stay up to date on check ups and speak with a doctor about any inexplicable or concerning changes to your health.
“For localized kidney cancer, for relatively small masses that have not metastasized, most often patients feel nothing, and this is found on a scan done for another reason,” he said. “For larger masses of the kidney they may have pain on that side, they may see blood in the urine or a routine urine test may show a microscopic amount of blood in the urine that’s not enough to be seen visually but still will prompt further testing with imaging that shows the kidney cancer.”
Since kidney cancer may or may not cause symptoms, it’s important to always advocate for your health. According to Dr. Zuri Murell, director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, guidelines in this country are meant to take care of and do the right thing for the largest number of people while using the fewest resources.
Be Pushy, Be Your Own Advocate… Don’t Settle
“The truth is you have to be in tune with your body, and you realize that you are not the statistic,” Dr. Murrell said. “Every appointment you leave as a patient, there should be a plan for what the doc is going to do for you, and if that doesn’t work, what the next plan is.”
“And I think that that’s totally fair. And me as a health professional – that’s what I do for all of my patients.”
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