Kidney Cancer: 7 Things to Know


Gene-edited cells keep cancer babies well more than one year on.
Gene-edited cells keep cancer babies well more than one year on. Photo/Reuters

In Summary

  • Age also plays a big part in whether someone will develop this disease. Most people are in their 60s when they receive a kidney cancer diagnosis.
  • Because smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure are big risk factors for kidney cancer, it’s important to get these health conditions under control.
  • The other most common symptom is blood in the urine.

Risk Factors and Early Detection of Kidney Cancer

As with most cancers, catching kidney cancer in the early stages improves the person’s chance of survival. In fact, if it’s detected in stage I, patients have more than an 80% chance of survival, meaning they live at least five years beyond their cancer diagnosis. A complete cure is a reality in some cases. Because treatments are always improving, the kidney cancer survival rate may get even better with time. The more you know about this disease, the more prepared you’ll be to fight it should you or a loved one ever face a kidney cancer diagnosis.

  1. Men are twice as likely to get kidney cancer.

Age also plays a big part in whether someone will develop this disease. Most people are in their 60s when they receive a kidney cancer diagnosis. Doctors rarely find kidney cancer in people younger than 45 years old. White Americans are slightly less likely than African Americans or American Indians to develop renal cell carcinoma, which is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults.

  1. Smoking and obesity are the biggest risk factors for kidney cancer.

Other risk factors can be work related, such as being exposed to certain substances like asbestos, cadmium, some herbicides, and organic solvents. You can’t avoid some risk factors, such as a family history of kidney cancer and people with advanced kidney disease. But you can be more alert to a heightened risk of developing cancer and see your doctor every year to manage your health.

  1. A mass on your back is a symptom of kidney cancer.

The other most common symptom is blood in the urine. Depending on how big the tumor is, kidney cancer symptoms can also include swelling in the legs and ankles, lower back pain, low red blood cell count (anemia), fatigue, unexplained fever, or unexplained weight loss. These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so talk with your doctor to rule out other health problems.

  1. Imaging tests can reveal kidney cancer.

If your doctor feels a lump in your abdomen or back and suspects kidney cancer, he or she might order diagnostic imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound. Each of these tests creates images of the inside of your body that can show whether you have a tumor on your kidney. Your doctor might also order an intravenous pyelogram (IVP). For this test, you’ll receive an injection of dye before getting X-rays of your kidneys.

  1. Surgery (nephrectomy) is the most common treatment for kidney cancer.

A surgeon might remove part or the entire kidney, especially if the cancer is in the first three stages. If a nephrectomy isn’t possible, other treatment options may include immunotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy (chemo). Chemo and radiation therapy are less useful against kidney cancer than other types of cancer, so they are not usually the first course of treatment. Your options for treatment will depend on your age, overall health, and the stage of kidney cancer.

  1. There are side effects to every treatment option.

Pain and swelling are the most common side effects of surgery. With targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy, you might experience a rash, nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue, among other symptoms. Chemotherapy can cause hair loss, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, mouth sores, diarrhea, or constipation. Cancer specialists always weigh the expected benefits of treatment with the severity of potential side effects when planning kidney cancer treatment.

  1. Lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of kidney cancer.

Because smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure are big risk factors for kidney cancer, it’s important to get these health conditions under control. Not smoking, or quitting if you smoke, helps prevent a long list of health problems, including cancer. If you have high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about strategies to lower it. You can’t always prevent kidney cancer, but making healthy lifestyle changes can reduce your risk.

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