What Is Metastatic Kidney Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 31 January 2020
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Metastatic kidney cancer is a malignancy that starts in the kidneys and invades other structures in the body. At the early stage, it may penetrate neighboring structures first, but advanced metastatic kidney cancer can spread to more remote locations, like the brain. This condition can be difficult to treat and may require an oncologist and medical consultants like nephrologists for the best level of care. The prognosis varies depending on the type of cancer, the patient's health, and the degree of metastasis.

One of the most common forms of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma. When the cancer spreads, it can reach the nearby lymph nodes as well as the lungs and the liver. Further abroad, it may penetrate the brain and the bones. Patients with metastatic kidney cancer may have symptoms like fatigue, bone pain, changes in urinary output, and nausea. Medical imaging will show the tissue changes inside the body, and a doctor can also request a biopsy. Sometimes the metastatic cancer is found first, and the doctor must trace it back to the source.


When metastatic kidney cancer spreads, it is still known as kidney cancer, no matter where it shows up, because the cells are from the original tumor in the kidneys. For example, metastatic kidney cancer of the lungs is not lung cancer, because the tumors do not contain lung cells. Treatment options can include surgery if a tumor is operable, along with chemotherapy and radiation to kill cancer cells. The doctor will monitor the response to treatment with more medical imaging and other tools like blood tests to check for hormone changes associated with cancer.

A patient with primary kidney cancer that does not respond to treatment may experience a metastatic form. The condition can also spread after it appears to have gone into remission. In these cases, some cancer cells remain active despite treatment and begin growing again when the patient is no longer receiving medical treatment. These cells may spread to new areas of the body and could pop up unexpectedly.

Patients with a metastatic kidney cancer diagnosis may be concerned and nervous about the condition. It is important to get information from the doctor to make an informed decision about treatment. The doctor can discuss the kind of cancer, the treatment options, and the prognosis. Patients may also want to consider asking about clinical trial eligibility, as they may be able to access new treatments like medications that are still under development.



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Post 3

Metastatic cancers are horrible things. You never know if you are in the clear. This is why they always refer to it as "remission" rather than "cured".

Because once you get to this stage of cancer, it's possible you might get rid of it and never feel sick again, and it's possible in a years time you'll be back where you started.

The not knowing is the worst part for me. I have a lot of respect for anyone who has gone through this, or has a loved one who has gone through it.

Post 2

@bythewell - It's possible in theory, but in practice that would be difficult. Even though the cells originate from a particular cancer, they are all still your human cells. And if they come from your kidney, for example, they are still roughly the same cells as your kidney. They were just damaged in such a way that causes them to grow abnormally.

If they could somehow tag the renal kidney cancer cells and target them directly, that would help a lot, but I don't think our technology is up to that yet. Even our own bodies aren't capable of that kind of targeted attack, which shows up with the way that the body often starts attacking itself in response to cancer.

The inability to reliably distinguish cancer cells from healthy cells is essentially the whole problem with cancer treatment. Most of the time at the moment it's a shot in the dark as to whether we can remove it all.

Post 1

It never occurred to me before that metastasized cancer was still made up of the original cancer cells.

I always thought, I suppose that the original cells plant themselves away from the tumor and 'infect' the cells they come into contact with, leading to, for example, cancer in the brain, made from brain cells. Of course, this doesn't make sense since cancer cells aren't like bacteria. They don't infect other cells. They just grow out of control, damaging systems. So I don't know why I thought they would do that.

Instead, it's apparently all from the same tumor, with the brain cancer being made from cells that were originally kidney cells.

I wonder if there's any way to use this fact to treat the cancer? If they are all related cells, couldn't some kind of tailored remedy be used?

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