Overview of Kidney Cancer

Opinion
Video

Chandler H. Park, MD, and Tian Zhang, MD, MHS, give an overview of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and outline disease risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies.

Transcript:

Chandler H. Park, M.D.: Hello, and welcome to CURE’s Educated Patient Sound Bites on advanced kidney cancer. My name is Dr. Chandler Park. I’m the co-director of genitourinary oncology clinical trials at Norton Cancer Institute in Louisville, Kentucky. We’re going to be offering insights about kidney cancer, current and emerging treatments, and how that impacts our patients.

Some of the most common questions I get are: What is kidney cancer, and what are the risk factors and symptoms? One of the things that I like to use for my patients … analogies. The reason we describe them as kidney cancer is that the cancer starts in the kidney. If it spreads to other areas such as the bone, the liver or the lung, and the biopsy comes back as kidney cancer, even though it’s in the liver or the bone, it is still considered kidney cancer. So, for example, my hometown is Fort Knox, Kentucky, but I “spread,” or moved, to Louisville, Kentucky. So by definition, my hometown is still Fort Knox, even though I’m in Louisville. Kidney cancer is the same way. So even if we have a CT scan that shows bone lesions and the biopsy comes back as kidney cancer, that’s not bone cancer; it’s kidney cancer.

Now, in terms of: What is cancer? Cancer is like growing plants. Imagine that you had a packet of seeds, and you put a seed in your hand and you look at it. That one little seed underneath the microscope is what cancer looks like. So just like a seed, if you put it under the ground, the seed grows, forms roots, spreads and forms flowers. And sometimes different parts of it fly into the air and spread. Cancer starts as one little cell in the kidney [and] grows, and then if it jumps into the blood vessel, it can spread to other places. So that’s kidney cancer.

Now, what are some of the risk factors for and symptoms of kidney cancer? One of the risk factors is smoking. There are carcinogens in smoking that go inside the lungs, into the blood vessels, and your kidney clears all the stuff. So all those carcinogens can concentrate in the kidneys. So smoking is a risk factor. Obesity and increased body mass index put you at risk of kidney cancer and high blood pressure. So these are the established risk factors for kidney cancer. Some of the other things that we have to think about are … some kidney cancers are genetic and could be hereditary. Patients with kidney cancer are diagnosed at 46 years or younger. I always get a hereditary cancer [specialist] like a geneticist on board, and we do a family tree and see if this is considered a genetic type of kidney cancer.

Now, the last question is: Are there ways to help prevent renal cell cancer or kidney cancer? We have to modify the risk factors to lower our chances of kidney cancer, such as decreasing smoking or not smoking, keeping our body mass index low, exercising, eating nutritious [and low-fat] food, [following a] low-cholesterol diet, and also keeping our blood pressure low. We have to always be on the lookout for following our primary care doctors and see if we have high blood pressure or hypertension.

Tian Zhang, M.D., M.H.S.: Overview-wise, kidney cancer is cancer that occurs in the kidney, and the most common type is renal cell carcinoma. The most common risk factors are smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and a family history of kidney cancer. However, many of these kidney cancers occur based on exposures over the course of a lifetime, not necessarily genetically related. Most patients are diagnosed between the ages of 65 to 74 years old, and kidney cancer is among the most common types of cancers in both men and women, with an estimated incidence of about 82,000 new cases in the U.S. per year. On the prevention end, there are not so many ways to prevent kidney cancer. Patients can tailor smoking habits, for example, as well as lifestyle modifications for the risk factors of obesity and high blood pressure. But many of these often arise sporadically or during the course of a lifetime. Overall it is very difficult to prevent kidney cancer, and we are more likely to just treat it as it occurs.

Transcript is AI-generated and edited for clarity and readability.

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