What to Know About Kidney Cancer

March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, and while we don’t hear about kidney cancer as often as other cancers, it is among the 10 most common cancers in Americans. The rate of kidney cancers has risen since the 1990s, though we don’t know why. The National Institute of Health estimates there were approximately 62,000 new diagnoses of kidney cancer in the United States in 2016 and over 14,000 deaths. As such, it’s important to know the risk factors for kidney cancer, as well as what to look out for.

The most common type of kidney cancer is also called renal cell carcinoma. Another rarer form of kidney cancer is transitional cell cancer, diagnosed in approximately 4,000 Americans each year. Risk factors for developing kidney cancers include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, misuse of some pain medications, and exposure to certain substances—like cadmium, some herbicides, and some organic solvents. Certain genetic conditions like Hippel-Lindau disease and Birt Hogg Dube Syndrome, a family history, or hereditary tendencies can also lead to developing kidney cancer.

So, how can you spot kidney cancer? Unfortunately, kidney cancer often escapes undetected because it can grow a fair amount without triggering any pain or any other problems. In addition, internal organ cancers can’t be seen or felt externally, so they require blood, urine, or imaging tests. Tests to screen for kidney cancer aren’t typically recommended for people who are not at an increased risk, and they can be costly. Even the symptoms aren’t exclusive to kidney cancer. In fact, kidney cancer is often caught by accident during imaging for other illnesses.

In order to catch it as early as possible, tell your doctor if you’re at an increased risk, have a family history, or a hereditary or genetic disposition toward developing kidney cancer. Also, know the signs and symptoms. Although kidney cancers often don’t cause early symptoms, and though they can indicate other harmless conditions, knowing them can help you catch it early enough for proper treatment.

Symptoms and Signs of Kidney Cancer

• Low back pain on one side
• Blood in the urine
• Loss of appetite
• Unexplained weight loss
• Unexplained fatigue
• Anemia
• Ongoing fever without signs of infection
• A lump on the lower back or side
• Painful or frequent urination

Once diagnosed, kidney cancer is usually treated with surgery to remove all or part of the cancerous organ. After surgery, some patients might receive chemotherapy or radiation to eradicate any remaining cancer cells. For cancers that have spread significantly or cannot be removed surgically, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, or ablation may be considered.

An average of 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year at an average age of 64. Kidney cancer occurs twice as often in men than in women, but overall the lifetime risk of developing kidney cancer is about 1 in 63. Thankfully, the death rates for these cancers have gone down since the mid-1990s, and continued research can help them decline even more.

Organizations like Padres Pedal the Cause raise money for essential research that helps provide new treatments and prevention for different kinds of cancer, including kidney cancer. Donating time, resources, and attention to these organizations and the research they support helps patients live longer. Events like Padres Pedal the Cause help raise awareness and funds for studies that could end kidney cancer.

Now that you know some of basics of kidney cancer, find out more about how you can help fight it today.

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