March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month

by Jane Ashley

March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month. 

Kidney Ribbon Logo

We have 2 kidneys. They filter our blood to remove impurities, excessive amounts of salt and other minerals and water. Our kidneys are amazing workhorses in our body — continuously filtering our blood (equivalent to about 200 quarts of blood daily) and producing 2 quarts of urine (waste products). Our kidneys also produce hormones that help regulate our blood pressure and red blood cell production.

Fortunately, our kidneys work independently of each other. We can live normal lives with just one kidney.

How common is Kidney Cancer?

Almost 74,000 people in the U.S. develop kidney cancer every year. About 44,000 are men, and 30,000 are women. Kidney cancer is the 6th most common cancer in men and the 8th most common cancer in women.

About 15,000 people in the U.S. die each year from kidney cancer. Death rates have been declining by about one percent a year since 2007.
Fortunately, two-thirds of kidney cancer is diagnosed when it only affects one kidney. The 5-year survival rate for these patients is 93 percent.

What are the Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer?

Risk factors are varied. You may have some of these risk factors and not develop kidney cancer. Some people may develop kidney cancer but have none of these risk factors.

• Smoking
• Gender – men are more likely to develop kidney cancer
• Race – African-Americans are more likely to develop this cancer
• Age – most people are over 50 when they are diagnosed
• Obesity
• High blood pressure
• Excessive use of aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen
• Exposure to cadmium
• Chronic kidney disease
• Long-term dialysis
• Family history

What are the Symptoms of Kidney Cancer?

Early kidney cancer does not produce any symptoms. It’s sometimes found when a person has an X-ray or CT scan for another condition. As the tumor grows, it begins to cause symptoms.

Backpain Kidney Cancer

• Blood in the urine
• Low back pain on one side
• A mass on the side or lower back
• Fatigue
• Lack of appetite
• Weight loss
• Fever
• Anemia

Men may also notice enlarged veins around a testicle, particularly the right testicle. This could indicate a large tumor in a kidney.

How is Kidney Cancer Diagnosed?

Physicians use many tests to determine if you have kidney cancer.

• Blood and urine tests. These tests determine if you are anemic and/or have blood in your urine.
• Biopsy. If your blood and urine tests suggest that you may have kidney cancer, a biopsy is done to confirm if you have cancer. A small sample of tissue is removed by an interventional radiologist for a pathologist to examine. A biopsy is an out-patient procedure.
• Imaging tests. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs are used to measure the size of the tumor and its exact location. PET scans are not utilized in the diagnosis of kidney cancer.

The imaging tests help determine the extent of your cancer and if it has spread. This process is known as staging. The biopsy determines the type and grade of the cancer cells — this information helps determine your specific treatment.

The Kidney Cancer Association

Treatments for Kidney Cancer

Urologists treat kidney cancer. They specialize in diseases of the genitourinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and genitals. You will probably also have an oncologist who helps decide if targeted therapy or immunotherapy will work for you.

• Surgery. Surgery varies with the size and location of the tumor. It may be just the removal of the tumor or removal of the kidney and surrounding tissue. Sometimes, the location of the tumor or the overall health of the patient may preclude surgery. In these circumstances, either radiofrequency ablation (RFA) or cryoablation (freezing of the cancer cells) can be used.
• Medication therapy. This is also known as systemic therapy because it is given via an IV and helps prevent the cancer from spreading. These therapies include targeted therapy, immunotherapy or chemotherapy.

One Kidnely

Radiation is seldom used for kidney cancer because it has not proven effective.

The Bottom Line …

Always be proactive with your health. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to see your doctor for blood work and a urinalysis. Kidney cancer , when caught early, is treatable with excellent outcomes.

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