Battling Kidney Cancer: Recognizing Symptoms and Reducing Risks

Kidney cancer is a disease that starts in the kidneys. It happens when healthy cells in one or both kidneys grow out of control and form a lump (called a tumor).

Signs and Symptoms

In the early stages, most people don’t have signs or symptoms. Kidney cancer is usually found by chance during an abdominal (belly) imaging test for other complaints. As the tumor grows, you may have:

- Blood in the urine

- Pain in the lower back

- A lump in the lower back or side of the waist

- Unexplained weight loss, night sweats, fever, or fatigue


The reason why kidney cells change and become cancerous is not yet known. We know that people are more likely to develop kidney cancer as they age. However, there are certain risk factors linked to kidney cancer.
Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. Some risk factors can be changed (smoking, for example); but others cannot be changed (your gender or family history). Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean you will get kidney cancer, but it may increase your risk.

Risk factors for kidney cancer include:

- Smoking

- Being overweight (obese)

- High blood pressure

- Gender - about twice as many men as compared to women develop kidney cancer

- Being on dialysis treatment for advanced chronic kidney disease

- Family members with kidney cancer

- Long-term use of a pain-relieving drug called phenacetin

- Certain rare genetic diseases, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, Birt Hogge Dube syndrome, and others

- History of long-term exposure to asbestos or cadmium

You may be able to lower your risk of developing kidney cancer by avoiding those risk factors that can be controlled. For example, stopping smoking may lower the risk, and controlling body weight and high blood pressure may help as well.

Kidney Disease and Kidney Cancer

Studies show there is a link between kidney cancer and kidney disease.

Kidney Cancer Risk

Some studies show that people with kidney disease may have a higher risk for kidney cancer due to:

- Long-term dialysis: Some studies show that people on long-term dialysis have a 5-fold increased risk for kidney cancer. Experts believe this risk is due to kidney disease rather than dialysis.

- Immunosuppressant medicines: Some anti-rejection medicines that must be taken by kidney transplant recipients to prevent rejection can increase your risk for kidney cancer. However, taking your immunosuppressant medicine is important if you have a transplant. Without it, your body will reject your new kidney.

In India, the prevalence of kidney disease and the number of kidney cancer cases are rising. Lifestyle changes, urbanization, and an increase in risk factors like diabetes and hypertension are contributing to this trend. It is crucial for the Indian population to be aware of these risks and to take preventive measures.

Kidney Disease Risk

Surgery to remove an entire kidney (radical nephrectomy): Sometimes the entire kidney needs to be removed because the tumor is so large and most of the kidney has been destroyed. Your risk for kidney disease is higher if all (rather than part) of the kidney must be removed due to cancer. However, removing the whole kidney is often better for your survival if the tumor is large or centrally located. If a kidney tumor is small, it is better to undergo an operation to remove the tumor but not the entire kidney (partial nephrectomy). This approach decreases the chance of developing chronic kidney disease and associated problems with heart and blood vessel disease.

Drugs to slow or stop cancer growth: Drugs that spread throughout the body to treat cancer cells, wherever they may be, are sometimes used to treat advanced kidney cancer. All cancer drugs have some side effects, but some can be toxic to the kidney (called nephrotoxic). The word “nephrotoxic” means it can damage your kidney function.

Remember, not everyone with kidney cancer will get kidney disease. Likewise, not everyone who has kidney disease or a transplant will get kidney cancer. Ask your doctor what you can do to lower your risk.


General Prevention Tips

- Don’t smoke

- Maintain a healthy weight

- Find out if you’re exposed to certain toxins at work or at home (such as cadmium, asbestos, and trichloroethylene, which may increase kidney cancer risk)

Take Care of Your Kidneys

People with kidney disease may be at increased risk for kidney cancer:

- Ask your healthcare provider about 2 simple tests to find your kidney score:

- A blood test for kidney function called GFR

- A urine test for kidney damage called ACR

- Avoid prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen

- Manage high blood pressure

- Manage your blood sugar if you have diabetes

- Be aware of certain risk factors:

- Family history of kidney cancer

- Certain diseases you may have been born with, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease


Kidney cancer is a serious condition that requires awareness and proactive measures. Understanding the signs and symptoms, recognizing the risk factors, and adopting preventive strategies can help reduce the risk of developing kidney cancer. Regular medical check-ups and healthy lifestyle choices are essential in maintaining kidney health and early detection of potential issues. Always consult with your healthcare provider to stay informed and take the necessary steps to protect your kidney health.

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