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Risk factors for kidney cancer identified, but the science is not exact

BY RICHARD FRANKI
MDedge News

Kidney cancer has a number of known risk factors, but the connections between those risks and the disease are not so well known, according to the American Cancer Society.

Obesity is an important risk factor for renal cell carcinoma, the ACS notes on Cancer.org, while adding that it “may cause changes in certain hormones that can lead to RCC.” Gender also has an effect, with men twice as likely to develop RCC as women, but the ACS indicates that “men are more likely to be smokers and are more likely to be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals at work, which may account for some of the difference.”

Speaking of work, the ACS reports “that workplace exposure to certain substances increases the risk for RCC.” Those substances include cadmium, some herbicides, and organic solvents such as trichloroethylene.

High blood pressure and the diuretic medications used to treat it also may raise kidney cancer risk, “but it is hard to tell if it’s the condition or the medicine (or both) that may be the cause of the increased risk,” the ACS says. Race also comes into play with RCC, since rates are slightly higher for African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives, compared with whites. “The reasons for this are not clear,” the ACS notes.

Other risk factors for kidney cancer include smoking, family history of kidney cancer, advanced kidney disease, and genetic and hereditary conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, the ACS says.

Patients need to understand that “having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that [they] will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person with kidney cancer has a risk factor, it is often very hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the cancer,” the ACS explained.

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