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Five Things to Know About Kidney Cancer

Other than the chance of dealing with a kidney stone, most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their kidneys – but it is a vital organ. The body has two kidneys, but some people live with just one. Those who do not have working kidneys survive with dialysis, a machine that filters blood as a kidney would.

The kidney, however, is susceptible to cancer. For 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates about 76,080 new kidney cancer cases –48,780 in men and 27,300 in women – will be diagnosed. Moreover, about 13,780 people – 8,790 men and 4,990 women – will die from the disease.

The average age of people diagnosed with kidney cancer is 64 (most are between 65 and 74). The disease is uncommon in those under 45 years old. Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with kidney cancer. It is often diagnosed in Blacks and Indian/Alaska natives.

What are kidneys?

The kidneys, bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, are attached to the abdomen’s upper back wall. One kidney is to the left, the other to the backbone’s right, and is protected by the rib cage.

The kidney and adrenal gland, which sits on top of each kidney, are surrounded by fatty tissues and the renal fascia – a collagen-filled, fibrous connective tissue.

What do kidneys do?

The kidney’s primary function is to remove excess water, salt, and waste products from blood coming from renal arteries. These substances become urine. Urine collects in each kidney and exits through ureters to the bladder, where urine is stored until you pee.

Kidneys also make renin, a hormone that helps control blood pressure. They make another hormone – erythropoietin, which ensures the body has enough red blood cells. (Erythropoietin signals bone marrow to produce more rbc.)

Five things to know about kidney cancer:

  1. Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in men and women. The risk for developing kidney cancer in men is about 1 in 46 (2.02%). The risk for women is about 1 in 80 (1.03%).
  2. Researchers have identified several risk factors that may lead to kidney cancer: family history of kidney cancer, gender, high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, race, workplace exposures, certain medicines (i.e., acetaminophen).
  3. Based on kidney (or renal pelvis) cancer diagnosis between 2010 and 2016, the 5-year relative survival rate 75% overall –93% for Stage I; 70% for Stages II and III; 13% for Stage IV. Note: There are no recommended kidney cancer screening; no test has been shown to lower the risk of dying from the disease.
  4. Imaging tests, like CT and MRI scans, can find small kidney cancers, as can an ultrasound. However, these tests cannot specify if the tumors are small renal cell carcinomas.
  5. Immunotherapy – medicines used to boost a person’s immune system – is becoming more popular in cancer treatment. The immunotherapies help the body recognize and destroy cancer cells. Talk with your healthcare team to learn more to make an informed decision.

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Often, your financial situation dictates decisions regarding cancer treatments. In turn, if your cancer treatments cause financial hardship, it may affect your overall health. It is the perfect storm for a vicious circle of questioning yourself while trying to save your life.

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