If you have metastatic kidney cancer, you may have questions about how serious it is and your chance of survival. Prognosis (outlook) is a common term used to call the estimation (prediction) of how the disease will go. In general, the cancer is more difficult to treat and has worse prognosis when it has spread.
Over time the cancer cells that started in the kidney can break away from the primary tumor and spread to other areas of the body through circulation (bloodstream) or/and lymphatic system (which contains a network of lymph vessels to carry fluid and immune cells). The process of this spread is called metastasis.
Once the cancer cells enter the circulation or lymphatic system, they can spread to any part of the body. Many of these cells don’t survive. But some may settle in a new area, start to grow and form a new tumor called secondary cancer.
Steps of how kidney cancer spreads
Actually, it’s not easy for the primary cancer in the kidney to spread and cause secondary cancer in another part of the body. The body has its own natural defense mechanism to fight against the cancer.
To spread and form a new cancerous growth in new parts of the body, the cancer cells need to go through the following steps:
- First off, the cancer cells need to break away from the primary tumor and then go to the circulation or lymph system.
- They also have to be able to attach to the blood vessel’s wall or/and lymph vessel’s wall so they can travel through it to another area of the body.
- And once they reach new location in the body, they have to be able to grow and thrive.
- Another challenging thing, they have to keep survive from the attack of the body immune system.
In general, secondary cancer has the same type of cancer cell as the primary tumor where they first started. But after going through all these steps, the cancer cells that successfully survive and form secondary cancer may no longer be exactly the same as the cancer cells of the primary cancer, making them more difficult to treat.
The metastatic cancer is still named and called after the part /organ of the body where it first started. For instance – kidney cancer that spreads to the lungs is not named lung cancer, but it is called metastatic kidney cancer in the lung.
Where does it usually spread to?
Metastatic kidney cancer can spread to any part of the body. But there are particular areas /organs of the body where it usually spreads to.
The nearby organs close to the affected kidney are at higher risk – such as bowel and adrenal gland. Kidney cancer is also quite common to spread to the lungs, bones, brain, and liver. Sometimes it also spreads to the other kidney. Learn more this issue in this post!
Cancer staging is required to help determine how far the cancer has grown and spread. It is also important variable to estimate the prognosis of the disease.
One of the most common procedures for cancer staging is with the number staging system. It consists of four main stages; stage I, II, III, and IV. Stage IV is also called metastatic stage, when the cancer has spread to another part of the body.
Kidney cancer is likely to be curable if caught early (stage I and stage II, when the cancer is still completely inside the affected kidney). In stage III, locally advanced stage, may also be able to be cured if it’s still possible to remove the cancer completely.
Cure in cancer means that the cancer is successfully removed – there are also no traces of the cancer after treatment and the cancer doesn’t come back. Remission means the cancer symptoms are reduced, and this can be complete or partial. When all cancer symptoms go away, this is called complete remission. If you have complete remission for 5 years or more, the cancer may be curable.
In stage IV (metastatic stage), the cancer is usually incurable and the life expectancy declines drastically. Typically, the treatments are only intended to help control the cancer, preventing it from getting worse – but not to cure it.
According to the Cancer Research UK, there are only about 5 percent of men (5 out of every 100 men) with metastatic kidney cancer will survive at least 5 years after the diagnosis. The prognosis for women is also similar. And according the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for people with stage IV of kidney cancer is only about 8 percent.
However, there is no any statistic that can be reliable enough to tell you exactly what will happen. This estimation is intended for general information only. Furthermore, each case of cancer is different (unique).
Looking for information about the prognosis of your cancer is a personal decision. You may find it easier to cope when you know about your condition. If you do want to know more about the prognosis and outlook of your cancer, talk with a doctor or specialist who knows the most about your situation!
What else? It’s undeniable that the stage of the cancer is the major variable to estimate the prognosis of the disease. But it is not the only one. Apart from whether or not the cancer has spread, the prognosis and life expectancy are also dependent on the following factors: