Kidney cancer, or renal carcinoma, isn’t always easy to detect. The most common symptom, blood in the urine, could be caused by other things, such as infections or kidney stones.
On a more positive note, however: Treatments are improving all the time. That may be especially good news during March, designated as Kidney Cancer Awareness Month.
“Within the past decade, seven new drugs for kidney cancer have been approved,” says Sumanta Kumar Pal, M.D. co-director of the Kidney Cancer Program at City of Hope. He calls the increase in options “a dramatic achievement.” After all, in a disease that often goes undetected until the tumor, or tumors, have grown, seven new drugs is no small thing.
Treatment options already include surgery, ablation, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, biologic therapy and, of course, chemotherapy, says the American Cancer Society.
In choosing a therapy, doctors and patients discuss the stage of the cancer, the patient’s overall health, potential side effects of treatment and the odds of a complete cure. They also discuss the type of kidney cancer.
Renal cell carcinoma is the most common, accounting for 85 percent of malignant tumors, and there are many subtypes of renal cell carcinoma, each with its own treatments.
Transitional cell carcinoma – affecting the lining of the kidneys, the urine-collecting system and sometimes the bladder – is considerably less common. So is Wilm’s tumor. That one is most often found in children.
Kidney cancer is treatable, and the treatments are getting better. But 65,150 more cases are expected this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. And the disease is expected to claim 13,680 lives.
As Pal observes: “Metastatic kidney cancer remains incurable – there is still a great deal of work to be done.”
Part of that work falls to people who want to avoid kidney cancer. Two primary risk factors are smoking and being overweight. The advice to that end goes without saying. Others include having high blood pressure, a family history of the disease and advanced kidney disease.
The other known risk factor is work-related exposure to certain chemicals on the job such as asbestos, cadmium, some herbicides, benzene and organic solvents.
And that brings us back to the push for new treatments.