The National Cancer Institute estimates that approximately 65,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed in a given year in the U.S. The disease will cause 13,000 deaths annually in the country. The majority of kidney cancer cases (63 percent) in the U.S. are first diagnosed in early stages with a five-year survival rate of nearly 92 percent. Nonetheless, medical professionals continue to misdiagnose kidney cancer symptoms, or fail to rule out cancer, leading to delayed diagnoses with substantially lower survival rates.
What is kidney cancer?
Humans have two bean shaped kidneys about the size of a human fist located behind the abdominal organs on each side of the spine. Kidneys clean blood, remove waste products from the body, and produce urine. The most common kidney cancer is “renal cell carcinoma,” which forms in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney that filter blood and remove waste products. A less common cancer is “renal pelvis carcinoma,” which forms in the center of the kidney where urine collects.
How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
Physicians diagnose most kidney cancers before they spread. The most common signs of the disease are a mass in the abdomen, and blood in the urine. Other symptoms include: extreme fatigue; loss of appetite; weight loss; persistent fever; heavy sweating; and persistent pain in the abdomen. Cancer that has spread beyond the kidney may cause shortness of breath, coughing up blood, or bone pain.
Men are twice as likely as women to get kidney cancer. Other risk factors include smoking (which can double the risk), regular use of pain killer medications, obesity, family history of the disease, a kidney disease requiring dialysis, and age (most kidney cancer cases occur in individuals over the age of 40).
A doctor may suspect kidney cancer based on a physical exam that includes urine and blood tests. A patient may undergo an intravenous pyelogram (IVP), which is an x-Ray of the kidney after a doctor injects dye that travels through the urinary tract highlighting the presence of any tumors. Other tests include an ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and a renal arteriogram (used to evaluate blood supply to a tumor).
Physicians are generally certain of a kidney cancer diagnosis in the absence of a biopsy, although biopsies are sometimes conducted to confirm a diagnosis. A physician may also use a biopsy to determine the grade of a cancer and how aggressively it might have spread.
Stage I of kidney cancer involves a tumor inside the kidney that is smaller than seven centimeters (a little less than three inches). A localized tumor larger than seven centimeters is considered Stage II of the disease. Treatment of the disease in early stages usually involves surgery. Depending on the size of the tumor and how quickly it is growing, surgery can involve a complete removal of the infected kidney, or only the tumor itself and part of the kidney. If surgery is not an option, other treatments include cyrotherapy (freezing the tumor), radiofrequency ablation (burning the tumor), drug treatments that use natural substances in the body, and immunotherapy (drugs that trigger responses in the body’s immune system). Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually not administered because kidney cancer generally doesn’t respond well to these treatments.
Stage III of renal cancer involves a tumor in the kidney, and at least one nearby lymph node, or the tumor spread has grown into the fatty tissue around the kidney, or has invaded the kidney’s main blood vessel. Surgical removal of the tumor remains an option at this stage of kidney cancer. Stage IV of the disease is when the cancer has spread beyond the fatty layer of tissue around the kidney, and infected nearby lymph nodes or the adrenal gland. It may have spread to other organs, such as the bowel system, pancreas or lungs. Surgery is usually not a treatment option at Stage IV. Treatments could involve various therapies to remove some of the tumors, targeted drug treatments, or relief of pain. Sometimes various treatments are combined.
Missed or delayed diagnosis of kidney cancer
Medical professionals can miss or delay a diagnosis of kidney cancer for a variety of reasons. For example, a doctor may note an abnormality on a CT scan as part of an emergency room visit for lower back pain, but not order a follow up renal ultrasound to rule out cancer. Or a doctor may diagnose a kidney infection, cyst or benign tumor based on symptoms, instead of definitively ruling out cancer.
Tests undertaken in response to blood in urine may not reveal a definitive answer. However, the doctor may fail to conduct or order any further testing to rule out cancer. A guiding standard of care for urologists is to assume blood in urine is a sign of cancer until tests prove otherwise.
A physician may misread blood or urine test results, or misread an x-Ray, ultrasound, MRI or CT scan. Or a doctor may fail to order a biopsy when other tests are inconclusive.
Consequences of missed or delayed diagnoses of kidney cancer
Early detection of renal cancer is crucial to being cured and increasing long-term survival. Kidney cancer found in early stages is often successfully removed surgically and the survival rate is very high (nearly 92 percent). Even if the entire kidney is removed, patients can continue functioning with one health kidney. However, if the cancer spreads beyond the kidney to infect nearby lymph nodes, or metastasizes to other organs, the five-year survival rate drops dramatically (64 percent for Stage III, and 12 percent for Stage IV).
Did a delayed diagnosis of kidney cancer increase my chance of dying?
With our experience in delayed diagnosis cases, Powers & Santola can build clear, compelling cases for recovery. Kidney cancer patients who would have had a near certain prognosis of cure and survival with an early diagnosis can recover for an “increased chance of death” or harsher treatment regimens they have to endure as a result of a delayed diagnosis of their cancer.
Powers & Santola, LLP, attorneys are dedicated to providing outstanding legal representation to individuals who have been harmed by a needlessly delayed diagnosis of cancer. Combining our knowledge, talent, and commitment to fundamentally changing the lives of our clients and their families for the better, we help clients find answers to difficult questions, and obtain compensation for the harm caused by medical malpractice.
Founded in 1987, Powers & Santola, LLP, has an extensive track record of success, and reputation for excellence. We devote our full attention and resources to a limited number of very seriously injured clients in New York and other states. When we agree to represent someone, we resolve that our services will be dedicated to helping that person improve his or her life for the better. To make that commitment meaningful, we focus our skills, efforts and other resources on helping a select group of clients.
We can help you assess your legal rights and find the answers you need. To talk with us about a lawsuit involving a delayed diagnosis of kidney cancer, call Powers & Santola, LLP, at 518.465.5995 or contact us online.