Kidney Cancer: Keeping Tabs on a Lesser-Known Killer
If you were asked to name the cancers with the most new cases this year, you’d probably correctly guess skin, prostate, lung, colorectal and breast cancers.
But this year, more than 51,000 people in the United States will get kidney cancer. While mortality rates for most types of cancer are falling, kidney cancer is actually on the rise, and nearly 13,000 will die from the disease.
“It doesn’t have the recognition that bigger name cancers have, but it’s certainly a disease that causes a significant amount of concern to us,” said Adam Perzin, M.D., a urologist on staff at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County.
Who’s at Risk?
Kidney cancer is found primarily in people older than 40, and is more prevalent in men than women, Dr. Perzin said. However, the causes for the disease are less obvious.
“It’s a type of cancer where the genetic links and environmental factors are not as clear-cut,” he said.
Still, National Cancer Institute research has shown that smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and long-term dialysis may increase someone’s risk. You also may be more likely to develop kidney cancer if you suffer from Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome or are exposed to asbestos or cadmium at work.
In kidney cancer’s early stages, Dr. Perzin said, the only symptom may be a microscopic trace of blood in the urine. In later stages, symptoms can include:
- More noticeable blood in the urine;
- Pain in the abdomen;
- A visible tumor in the abdomen;
- Weight loss;
Dr. Perzin said the disease is often detected incidentally when a patient comes in for treatment of another ailment, and obtains abdominal imaging of some type. “The tumors are found on a CT scan or an ultrasound,” he said.
Early Detection and Treatment
If you are age 40 or older, see your primary care physician once a year for a physical exam and a urine test, Dr. Perzin said. If you experience other symptoms of the disease, consult a doctor immediately.
If kidney cancer is detected and treated early, the chances for a full recovery are good. A surgical procedure to remove the kidney, called a nephrectomy, is the most common treatment. Radiation and chemotherapy are less-effective methods, Dr. Perzin said.