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Risk Factors, Symptoms & Statistics

Risk Factors

Smoking: This is a significant lifestyle risk indicator for renal cell carcinoma.  Cancer-causing chemicals found in nicotine are treated as waste and then filtered through the kidneys which can cause significant damage.  Though the damage may not be completely reversible, people who quit smoking can significantly reduce their risk of developing kidney cancer in the future.

Obesity: People who are severely overweight or obese face a higher risk of developing renal cell carcinoma than those who maintain a normal body weight for their height.  When someone has a proportion of body fat that is too high, it can cause hormonal changes in the body.  These changes have been linked to an increased risk for many types of cancer, including kidney.

Heredity: Some people inherit a tendency to develop certain types of cancer.  There is risk of developing kidney cancer in those who have a strong family history of the disease, especially a parent or sibling who has been diagnosed with it.  Additionally, certain rare, inherited conditions can also cause kidney cancer.

Gender/Race: Renal Cell Carcinoma is twice as common in men as it is in women.  It is the eighth most common cancer in men.  African Americans tend to have a slightly higher rate of kidney cancer than other races.

High Blood Pressure: Studies show that the risks of developing kidney cancer are higher in those who also have high blood pressure.  Some research suggests this risk is associated with certain medications that treat the high blood pressure, but it is unclear whether it is these medications or the condition itself that is the root cause.

Environmental Exposures: Frequent exposure to certain chemicals has been studied related to increased renal cell carcinoma risk.  These chemicals an include asbestos, cadmium, some herbicides and organic solvents.

Symptoms/Signs of Kidney Cancer

In its early stages, kidney cancer rarely causes symptoms and is often detected as a result of a screening for an unrelated problem.  In later stages, signs and symptoms can include any one or combination of the following:

  • Blood in the urine.  The blood may not be bright red.  It can also appear pink or brown-tinged.  It may also be only detected as microscopic blood found on urine test.
  • A fullness or a palpable mass near the sides of the abdomen (flank area)
  • Back pain below the rib cage (flank area)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained fatigue, generally not feeling "well."
  • Sporadic instances of fever not associated with other illness
  • Low blood counts/symptoms of anemia
  • Elevated blood calcium levels
  • Hypertension

All forms of cancer are most successfully treated in their earliest stages.  Because early-stage kidney cancer does not cause symptoms, it is important to maintain a proactive approach to your health with regular check-ups or "physicals" when you're well and when you're not.

Kidney Cancer Statistics

According to the National Institutes of Health, kidney cancer has been on the rise over the last 70 years.  Both the incidence and mortality rate are approximately twice as high in men as in women.  Research suggests this is due to the incidence of smoking and exposure to more harmful environmental work factors, two significant kidney cancer risk factors, also being higher in men.

SEER Incidence

Based on the National Cancer Institute's SEER Cancer Statistics Review, From 2005-2009, the median age at diagnosis for cancer of the kidney and renal pelvis was 64 years of age.  Approximately

  • 1.3% were diagnosed under age 20
  • 1.7% between ages 20 and 34
  • 6.0% between ages 35 and 44
  • 16.5% between ages 45 and 54
  • 25.6% between ages 55 and 64
  • 24.7% between ages 65 and 74
  • 18.4% between ages 75 and 84
  • 5.8% 85 years of age and higher.

The age-adjusted incidence rate was 15.1 per 100,000 men and women per year.  These rates are based on cases diagnosed in 2005-2009 from 18 SEER geographic areas.

Incidence Rates by Race

Race/Ethnicity

Male

Female

All Races

20.7 per 100,000 men

10.5 per 100,000 women

White

21.2 per 100,000 men

10.7 per 100,000 women

Black

24.3 per 100,000 men

12.0 per 100,000 women

Asian/Pacific Islander

10.9 per 100,000 men

5.7 per 100,000 women

American Indian/Alaska Native

24.7 per 100,000 men

15.4 per 100,000 women

Hispanic

19.5 per 100,000 men

10.9 per 100,000 women

US Mortality 

From 2005-2009, the median age at death for cancer of the kidney and renal pelvis was 71 years of age.  Approximately 0.4% died under age 20; 0.5% between 20 and 34; 2.0% between 35 and 44; 9.9% between 45 and 54; 20.6% between 55 and 64; 25.0% between 65 and 74; 27.2% between 75 and 84; and 14.4% 85+ years of age.

The age-adjusted death rate was 4.0 per 100,000 men and women per year.  These rates are based on patients who died in 2005-2009 in the US.

Death Rates by Race

Race/Ethnicity

Male

Female

All Races

5.8 per 100,000 men

2.6 per 100,000 women

White

5.9 per 100,000 men

2.7 per 100,000 women

Black

6.0 per 100,000 men

2.6 per 100,000 women

Asian/Pacific Islander

2.9 per 100,000 men

1.3 per 100,000 women

American Indian/Alaska Native

8.8 per 100,000 men

4.1 per 100,000 women

Hispanic

5.0 per 100,000 men

2.3 per 100,000 women

For more information about Kidney and Renal Pelvis Cancer statistics, visit the NCI's website here: http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/kidrp.html#incidence-mortality.

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