Four years ago we celebrated the first World Kidney Cancer Day. The International Kidney Cancer Coalition (IKCC) created an international campaign to increase awareness of the causes, prevention measures, and increasing rates of kidney cancer globally. 

The theme of this year’s campaign, “We need to talk about how we’re feeling,” is targeted to address the psychosocial impact on kidney cancer patients. 

About kidney cancer

Kidney cancer occurs when healthy cells in one or both kidneys alter and expand rapidly and a mass known as a renal cortical tumor forms. A tumor might be malignant, benign, or indolent. Adults with kidney cancer are most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70, and men are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop kidney cancer than women. Approximately 5-8% of kidney cancer cases are linked to family genetics. 

The main types of kidney cancer:

  • Renal cell cancer (RCC): The proximal renal tubules, which make up the kidney’s filtration system, are where this type of cancer arises. RCC makes upto 85% of diagnoses.
  • Transitional cell cancer (TCC) or renal urothelial carcinoma (UC): These two types of cancers are responsible for 5% to 10% of all kidney cancers identified in adults. Urothelial carcinoma originates in the renal pelvis, the part of the kidney where urine accumulates before going to the bladder.
  • Wilms tumor: Wilms tumor is more common in children than in adults, and it is treated differently. Wilms tumors account for around 1% of all kidney cancers.

Risk factors of kidney cancer

Several known factors can contribute to the risk of the disease:

  • Smoking
  • Nutrition and weight
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic kidney disease that needs dialysis
  • Long-lasting infection with Hepatitis-C
  • Taking certain pain medicines for a long time
  • Kidney stones
  • Previous treatment for testicular cancer or cervical cancer
  • Family history of kidney cancer

Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer

Early on kidney masses do not typically cause any symptoms and are undetectable on physical examination. As kidney cancer becomes more advanced it classically results in:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain or pain in the side (flank) that doesn’t go away
  • A lump or swelling in the kidney area or abdomen 
  • Losing weight for no reason that you know of
  • Anorexia
  • Fever that keeps coming back
  • Night sweats
  • Palpable swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Continuous cough
  • Bilateral lower leg swelling

A person with kidney or renal pelvis cancer may or may not have one or more of the symptoms listed above. The same symptoms may be the result of something else. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor first.

Diagnosis and treatment

The diagnosis of kidney cancer is unusual. In fact,  patients do not exhibit signs or symptoms that would prompt them to undergo testing. Because the use of ultrasound and CT imaging for nonspecific abdominal problems are on the rise, kidney masses are commonly discovered coincidentally during medical imaging. Following imaging, a tissue biopsy is taken which confirms the diagnosis. Treatment for kidney cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

The impact of COVID-19 on kidney cancer patients

The isolation of lockdowns, a lack of social support, greater financial stress, and a heightened sense of vulnerability about one’s health have made this a difficult time for cancer patients. Reflecting on this year’s theme, all patients are encouraged to share their struggles and triumphs, talk to their families, friends, doctors, or even post their stories on social media. 

World Kidney Cancer Day is a day to increase the visibility and awareness of psychosocial problems associated with kidney cancer and begin conversations with loved ones and one’s cancer care team. International Kidney Cancer Coalition’s (IKCC’s) mission is to reduce the global burden of kidney cancer which means lowering incidence rates, increasing access to improved treatments, providing quality information to patients and caregivers, and ensuring people have access to mental health services they need for support.

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