The incidence of kidney cancer has risen by a startling 68 per cent over the last 20 years according to new figures from Britain’s leading charity, Cancer Research UK.
Over 5,700 people are now affected by the disease in Britain each year and survival rates are among the lowest in Europe.
Kidney cancer can be caused by smoking but the rise in the disease does not reflect the decline in the number of smokers in the UK.
Dr Nick James, kidney cancer expert and a consultant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, explains: “We believe that smoking accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of cases. Other risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure, may explain the continuing rise in the disease.
“We can help to avoid kidney cancer by not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, but it’s also essential that we keep watch for the signs of kidney cancer.
“The most common symptom of the disease is blood in the urine, but unfortunately the bleeding is often intermittent and can be disregarded by patients and doctors.
“If you see traces of blood in your urine it’s vital that you see a doctor – it could be a sign of kidney cancer, bladder cancer or another serious condition. Your GP should then refer you to a specialist.”
Early disease can often be treated with surgery and survival rates are as high as 94 per cent but a cancer that has time to develop is far harder to treat and may require more extensive surgery. Once the cancer has spread the chance of successfully treating the disease drops dramatically.
Mike Renshaw from Corby in Northamptonshire was diagnosed with the disease in 1996 and now helps to run a UK wide support group, Kidney Cancer UK. He says: “Five years ago I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had the kidney and surrounding tissue removed. A year later I found out that the tumour had spread to other parts of my body including my adrenal gland, lung and lymph nodes. Since then I’ve had a variety of treatments, taken part in two clinical trials and been lucky enough to receive some of the best care available.
“It’s always difficult living with cancer, not knowing whether aches and pains are an indication of it growing or spreading. But I feel reasonably well at the moment and I’m tolerating the side effects of my treatment without too many problems.
“I believe that it’s vital for people to know what warning signs to look out for because the sooner the problem is found the easier it is to deal with.”
The incidence of kidney cancer varies substantially between different countries and is far higher in affluent western countries than in the developing world – further indication that lifestyle factors are important.
Joint Director General of Cancer Research UK, Professor Gordon McVie, says: “This upwards trend in kidney cancer is a genuine concern but it seems that this is a disease we can do something about.
“There is an increasing amount of evidence which shows that obesity is an important risk factor for a number of cancers. We now believe that after smoking, it is the most important lifestyle factor.”
Sir Paul Nurse, joint Director General of Cancer Research UK says: “If we want to save more lives in the long term, it’s essential that we look more closely at the factors which can cause kidney cancer. We need to encourage people to make the necessary lifestyle changes – quitting smoking and eating a healthy balanced diet – that could reduce their risk from the disease.”
Doctors regard someone as obese when their body mass index exceeds 30. Body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight in kg by your height squared in metres.
Kidney cancer accounts for an estimated 95,000 deaths across the world and over 3,000 in the UK each year.
When kidney cancer first starts to develop, there are often no obvious symptoms. Once the cancer begins to grow, the symptoms can become more obvious. They are:
- blood in the urine
- low back pain unrelated to injury
- a lump in the abdomen
- weight loss
- recurrent fevers not associated with colds or flu
- high blood pressure
- swelling of the ankles and legs