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Renal cancer is a malignant tumor that arises from the cortex, pelvis, or the calyces of the kidneys. The most common type of renal cancer is renal cell carcinoma, which forms from the cells lining the proximal convoluted tubules of the kidney.
All right, let’s quickly review some kidney physiology! We can think of the kidneys as the body’s natural blood filter. Their main function is to clear blood of metabolic wasteful substances and toxins by excreting them through urine. In addition, they secrete important hormones, and are essential in regulating the acid-base balance, pH, blood pressure, and electrolyte levels in the body.
So, if we take a cross-section of the kidney, there is an outside rim, known as the renal cortex, and an inner portion, which is the renal medulla. The cortical tissue extends towards the medulla, forming renal columns that divide the medulla into pyramidal-shaped structures called the renal pyramids. The tips of the pyramids, called the renal papilla, project into minor calyces which join together to form major calyces which funnel into the renal pelvis. Urine collects in the renal pelvis and then heads out of the kidney through the ureter.
Now, within the cortex and the medulla there are millions of tiny functional units called nephrons, which consist of a renal corpuscle and a set of renal tubules. The renal corpuscle is made up of the glomerulus, a tiny bundle of capillaries, and the Bowman’s capsule, which is a cup-shaped structure that surrounds the glomerulus. So, blood gets filtered through the glomerulus, and then travels through the renal tubules, which are, in order: the proximal convoluted tubule, loop of Henle, distal convoluted tubule and finally, collecting ducts which drain urine into the renal papillae and eventually empty into the renal pelvis.
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