How Fast Does Kidney Cancer Spread?

Illustration of kidneys

As with many other types of cancer, several factors determine how fast kidney cancer can spread. Your age, overall health and the type of kidney cancer all play a role in whether the disease is fast- or slow-growing.

“The spread pattern depends on how aggressive the cells are,” says Saby George, MD, FACP, Department of Medicine. “The most common type of kidney cancer, clear cell renal cell carcinoma, can have various subtypes within it. There are two subtypes, sarcomatoid and rhabdoid, that can spread very quickly and cause havoc throughout the body.”

Other Aggressive Forms of Kidney Cancer

“Low grades of kidney cancer tend to be slow-growing, while high grades can multiply fast. The other types that are found to be more aggressive are papillary (types 1 & 2), chromophobe, medullary and oncocytic.”

These variations of kidney cancer have a higher chance to metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body. The most common places that kidney cancer can spread to are the lung and lymph nodes.

Treatment Plans May Vary

Some kidney tumor patients can safely delay treatment — or not undergo treatment at all — and instead opt for careful monitoring with a biopsy and periodic CT scans once or twice a year. This is called active surveillance. “Active surveillance is something that only recently evolved into practice,” says Dr. George. It can be an important option for patients with low-risk kidney cancer because they could face more problems from treatment and its side effects than from the disease itself.

For cancers that are growing quickly or have already spread throughout the body, surgery may be required. A radical or partial nephrectomy is a procedure that removes all or part of the kidney. Patients who are unable to undergo surgery may require ablation therapy to destroy the tumor with radio waves, very cold gas or heat produced by microwaves.

While different types of kidney cancer can spread at different rates, it is essential to consult with a multidisciplinary team of experts that guide you to your best course of treatment.

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