About kidney cancer

What should people know about kidney cancer?

The kidneys are two reddish-brown organs, shaped like beans, located above the waist on each side of the spine. The renal pelvis is the inner, curved part of the kidney where urine collects. The kidneys filter blood and produce urine to remove waste products from the body. Urine collects in the renal pelvis and then moves down the ureters to the bladder, where it is stored. The kidneys also assist in controlling blood pressure and regulating red blood cell production.

Each year in New York State about 2,600 men and over 1,400 women are diagnosed with cancer of the kidney and renal pelvis. Over 400 men and almost 250 women die from this disease each year in New York State.

Who gets kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is more common among older people and occurs more often among men than women and among Whites than Blacks. The risk of getting kidney cancer increases with age, most often occurring in people over the age of 50. However, kidney cancer does occur among children. About 40 children are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year in New York State, most with Wilm's tumor, the most common kidney cancer in children.

What factors increase risk for developing kidney cancer?

At this time, the causes of kidney cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • Hereditary conditions and family history. People with certain inherited diseases (von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma and Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome) are at higher risk for kidney cancer. People with a family history of kidney cancer are also at increased risk.
  • Smoking. Smoking is an important risk factor for kidney cancer. People who smoke have a greater risk of developing kidney cancer than non-smokers. The risk of kidney cancer among smokers is about 40% higher than among non-smokers. Quitting smoking decreases the risk for kidney cancer, but it takes a long time to return to the level of non-smokers.
  • Obesity. People who are obese or overweight have a greater risk of developing kidney cancer.
  • Physical inactivity. People who lead an inactive lifestyle are at a greater risk for developing kidney cancer.
  • High blood pressure. Individuals with high blood pressure are at increased risk for getting kidney cancer.
  • Chronic kidney disease. People who are on dialysis for kidney failure may also be at higher risk for getting kidney cancer.

What other risk factors for kidney cancer are scientists studying?

Scientists are studying other possible risk factors for kidney cancer. Studies suggest that workers exposed to asbestos, gasoline and other petroleum products, hydrocarbons, lead, solvents or cadmium may be at increased risk for kidney cancer. Other studies indicate that heavy, long-term exposure to phenacetin (a pain killer no longer used in the United States) or exposure to ionizing radiation, such as radiation therapy for cervical or testicular cancer, may increase risk for getting kidney cancer. Additional research is needed to determine the role, if any, these factors may have in the development of kidney cancer.

Is the number of people with kidney cancer increasing?

The incidence of kidney cancer has been increasing nationally over the past thirty years. This is also true in New York State. Despite the increase in incidence, mortality from kidney cancer has decreased slightly over the last 20 years. Much of the increased incidence is in cancers diagnosed at an early stage.

Scientists are trying to determine the reasons for the increase in kidney cancer. Some of the increase may be because health care providers are better able to find the disease through ultrasounds and other medical tests, which can find these cancers at an earlier stage. Some of the increase may also be due to the increasing prevalence of obesity.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting kidney cancer?

To help reduce the risk of getting kidney cancer:

  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Have your blood pressure checked and discuss the results with your health care provider.
  • Be aware of workplace health and safety rules and follow them.

How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?

  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.
  • Limit alcohol use.

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