National Kidney Month and Cancer: How to Protect a Hard-Fighting Organ

February 26, 2018

There’s a reason we got a second helping of kidneys. This month, is a great time to learn why.

Our kidneys, located at either side of the backbone above the waist, are literally in charge of our lifeblood. They filter waste from our blood, regulate blood pressure, balance body fluids and form urine. That’s a short list.

However, due to these double-duty functions, not to mention the exposure to toxins, our kidneys are susceptible to many health problems, including cancer. More than 63,000 people are expected to develop kidney cancer in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society.  That’s about a one in 48 chance of developing the disease for each of us.

Fortunately, the chances of survival have risen dramatically, possibly due to earlier detection. In recognition of National Kidney Month, here’s what you should know.

Meet Kidney Cancer

Regardless of where in the body, cancer begins when cells start to grow out of control, forming tumors. When this occurs in the kidneys, it most often develops in the tiny filters used to remove waste from our blood.

This is called renal cell cancer, and it accounts for about 90% of all kidney cancers.

There are less common forms of kidney cancer, including transitional cell cancer, which begins in the lining of the renal pelvis, where the tubes that carry urine meet the kidneys. One of every 5 to 10 cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed as transitional cell cancer.

Origins and Risk Factors

Researchers have yet to identify a singular cause of kidney cancer, though there are several risk factors, including:

  • Tobacco smoking.
  • Obesity, which can cause changes in certain hormones.
  • Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, particularly in the workplace
  • Misuse of certain painkillers and other medications, including diuretics.
  • Genetic conditions, such as a family history of kidney cancer.

In terms of susceptibility, men are twice as likely as women to develop kidney cancer, possibly because men are more prone to smoke and be exposed to chemicals in the workplace. Also, it is likely to develop later in life -the average age of those diagnosed is 64. 

How Do You Know

Many people do not experience symptoms of kidney cancer, but there are watch-outs. Call your urologist if you experience:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria).
  • Low back pain on the side.
  • A lump on the side or lower back, behind the abdomen.
  • Decreased appetite and fatigue; weight loss.
  • Low red blood cell counts (anemia).

Treatment

The options for treating kidney cancer depend on the stage. The most common treatments include surgery (including minimally invasive robotic surgery), radiation, cryo-ablation (freezing) or immunologic thereapy. In some cases, if the tumors are very small, the doctor may recommend surveillance.

The best treatment, of course, is prevention. When we know how hard our kidneys work, we can better repsect the jobs they do. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, don’t smoke and maintain an active lifestyle.

Learn more about kidney cancer, detection and treatment here.

 

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