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Q&A: Top Kidney Cancer Questions, Answered
What is Kidney Cancer?
Kidney cancer, one of the 10 most common forms of cancer, is characterized by irregular cell growth in the kidneys, two bean-shaped organs that are located in the rear of the abdomen near the small of the back. Read on to learn more about kidney cancer, assess your risk of developing the disease, and find out what you can do to prevent it.
How Common is Kidney Cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, 62,700 new cases of kidney cancer are diagnosed each year. This accounts for about 4 percent of all new cancer cases. For unknown reasons, the number of kidney cancer cases in the US has been growing steadily since the 1990s but has begun to level off in recent years. Some believe that this could be due to advances in imaging and diagnostic technologies. An estimated 1 in 63 individuals will develop kidney cancer at some point in their lives.
Women vs Men: Who Has the Higher Risk?
Kidney cancer can occur in both men and women. However, the risk of developing kidney cancer is much higher for men than women. By some estimates, this elevated risk is as high as 300%.
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Is it Genetic?
There are a number of known genetic conditions that can increase your likelihood of developing kidney cancer. One of these conditions is von Hippel-Landau disease (VHL), which causes the development of small tumors in the blood vessels of the eye, spinal cord, and brain. Researchers have isolated the gene that is responsible for the development of VHL, and are hopeful that the same gene will reveal more about cancerous cell growth in kidney cancer patients.
Are There Different Types of Kidney Cancer?
Kidney cancer comes in many different forms. The most common form is renal cell carcinoma (RCC), in which tumors develop inside the kidneys. This type accounts for 90% of kidney cancer cases. The other 10% of kidney cancer cases are mostly transitional cell carcinomas, which start outside the kidneys in the lining of the renal pelvis and then enter the kidneys.
Is it a Kidney Stone or Kidney Cancer?
Kidney stones are much more common than kidney cancer – about 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. Kidney stones can be painful, but are generally not life-threatening. However, many of the symptoms of kidney stones such as pain in the lower back, blood in the urine, nausea, vomiting, and discolored urine, overlap with those of kidney cancer. It is therefore important to make sure you aren’t misdiagnosed. If you think you may have kidney stones but are experiencing loss of appetite, weight loss not caused by dieting, or feel a lump on your side or lower back, talk to your doctor. These may be signs of kidney cancer.
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Could I Have Kidney Cancer?
If you feel that you are experiencing symptoms of kidney cancer, see your doctor immediately. He or she will be able to run diagnostic tests to better understand your symptoms. Kidney cancer is unique in that it can sometimes be detected with a simple urinalysis. However, imaging tests, blood tests, and other diagnostic procedures will most likely be conducted before a final diagnosis is reached.
Can I Live Without My Kidneys?
Believe it or not, yes! The kidneys help to “clean” the blood by filtering out any excess salt, minerals, and/or waste products. This process is essential to the regular functioning of the body and is usually performed by both kidneys; however it continues more or less uninterrupted after a single nephrectomy (surgical removal of one kidney) and can be replaced by dialysis treatment in the case of a bilateral nephrectomy (surgical removal of both kidneys). In dialysis, an IV is inserted into the patient and connected to a dialysis machine with a tube. Blood is then pumped out of the body and through the dialysis machine, which functions as an artificial kidney, cleaning the blood and then pumping it back into the body. Nephrectomies may be paired with a number of other treatment methods, including immunotherapy and radiation therapy.
Should I Consider a Renal Transplant?
In some cases of kidney cancers, renal transplants may be considered in the treatment plan. Renal transplants involve the surgical removal of the diseased kidney(s) and insertion of a donor kidney. Renal transplants are typically very successful and have a 3 year survival rate higher than 95%. Though these treatments have high success rates, finding a donor can be very difficult. The national waiting list for a diseased donor kidney transplant is more than 74,000 people long.
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Does Staying Hydrated Prevent Kidney Cancer?
When the body doesn’t receive enough water, the mineral and waste concentrations in the blood and urine are higher than average. High concentrations of minerals and waste can lead to formations of crystalline waste inside the kidneys, which put stress on the kidney and increase the risk of kidney disease and possibly kidney cancer. Dehydration is more common than you’d think – one study found that an estimated 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated! To make sure you aren’t one of the dehydrated, be sure to drink fluids throughout the day, and be wary of diuretics like coffee and alcohol which can cause further dehydration.
A Vaccine to End Kidney Cancer?
There isn’t currently a known cure for kidney cancer, however there are several promising clinical trials underway. One of the more exciting clinical trials is for a kidney cancer vaccine. To produce the vaccine, scientists alter the genetic sequence of cancerous kidney cells in order to make the immune system more sensitive to them. Once injected into the body, the altered cells are thought to encourage the immune system to launch a more efficient response against the cancerous cells. Results of the clinical trial have not yet been reported.
Where Can I Find Support/More Resources on Kidney Cancer?
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with kidney cancer, you are not alone! Organizations such as the National Kidney Foundation are dedicated to researching kidney cancer, educating the public on the disease, and connecting people affected by the disease. For more information on kidney cancer or to find a support group, visit the National Kidney Foundation website or call your local hospital. There might even be a group that meets right in your area!