Sarah Cannon - March 26, 2020

March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, a time to educate yourself about this common cancer. Kidney cancer (also called renal cancer [i]) is among the ten most common cancers in both men and women [ii]. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2020 approximately 73,750 new cases of kidney cancer (45,520 in men and 28,230 in women) will be diagnosed in the United States. Overall, for men the lifetime risk for developing kidney cancer is about 1 in 46, and for women the lifetime risk is approximately 1 in 82. [iii]

Here is what you should know about kidney cancer, including the types, risk factors and signs and symptoms.

Types of kidney cancer

There are five main types of kidney cancer: [iv]

  • Renal cell carcinoma, which makes up about 85 percent of kidney cancers
  • Urothelial carcinoma or transitional cell carcinoma, which accounts for 5 to 10 percent of kidney cancers diagnosed in adults
  • Sarcoma, a rare form of kidney cancer
  • Wilms tumor, which is most common in children, make up 1% of kidney cancers
  • Lymphoma, in which the kidneys may become larger and is affiliated with enlarged lymph nodes

Risk factors for kidney cancer

Certain risk factors may predispose you to develop kidney cancer [v], [vi]. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history
  • Race: African Americans are at a slightly higher risk of developing renal cell carcinoma
  • Gender: Renal cell carcinoma is more common in men
  • Overuse of certain pain medications. Since 1983, painkillers with phenacetin have been banned in the United States due to their connection to transitional cell carcinoma. According to Cancer.Net “Diuretics and analgesic pain pills, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, have also been linked to kidney cancer.”
  • Certain occupational exposures such as asbestos, aniline dye and cadmium (heavy metals)
  • Advanced kidney disease

Other risk factors include a family history of certain hereditary forms of kidney cancer, long-term dialysis treatment, chronic renal stones, tuberous sclerosis and Von Hippel Lindau syndrome, a rare genetic disorder.

Symptoms of kidney cancer

While diagnostic tests can pick up signs of kidney cancer, there are also symptoms that the disease can cause. Early kidney cancers typically do not show signs, but later kidney cancers may. These symptoms include: [vii]

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain or new pain elsewhere
  • A lump in the abdomen or lower back
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Unplanned, significant weight loss
  • Fever
  • Anemia

It is possible that these symptoms may be a sign of kidney cancer or a result of a different disease. Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

If diagnosed, your doctor will recommend a method of treatment based on the stage and type of cancer. This can include surgery, radiation, targeted therapy, medication and immunotherapy.

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