Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in both men and women. While the rate of people being diagnosed with kidney cancer has been slowly increasing since the 1990s, in part due to increased use of medical imaging, the death rate has been slowly declining since the middle of the 1990s.
- An estimated 76,080 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2021, with 13,780 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- The lifetime risk for developing kidney cancer is about 1 in 46 in men and 1 in 80 in women.
- Men are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as women.
- Kidney cancer is uncommon in people younger than 45 and the average age of people when they are diagnosed is 64.
- The overall five-year survival rate for people with kidney cancer is 75%.
- Risk factors include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, family history of kidney cancer, advanced or chronic kidney disease, and exposure to radiation therapy or carcinogenic chemicals such as trichloroethylene. African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives have slightly higher rates of renal cell carcinoma (most common type of kidney cancer) than do Caucasians.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and the Society’s website
Signs and Symptoms
A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
- Blood in the urine
- Low back pain on one side (not caused by injury)
- A mass (lump) on the side or lower back
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss not caused by dieting
- Fever that is not caused by an infection and that doesn’t go away
- Anemia (low red blood cell counts)
- swelling of the ankles and legs
- high blood pressure
- For men, rapid development of enlarged veins around a testicle (particularly the right testicle)
Source: American Cancer 2021 and American Society of Clinical Oncology 2021
Kidney Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack kidney cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
Cancer that spreads from the primary tumor (metastasis) is the main reason that cancer patients lose their battle. Dr. Danny Welch and his team have discovered eight genes that get turned off when cancer cells become metastatic cells and are known as metastasis suppressor genes. A large effort in his lab is to determine how these suppressors normally prevent the spread of cancer so that unique anti-metastasis therapies can be developed. His current metastasis research has high impact for patients with kidney, breast, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and skin cancer.
In addition, Dr. Welch’s team has identified genetic changes that predict whether or not patients will develop metastasis. At least some of these genetic changes occur in mitochondria – where cells convert nutrients into energy. Mitochondrial DNA is present in every cell and is small enough to be rapidly analyzed. This means that a simple blood draw and analysis of mitochondrial DNA could be used to guide doctors in treating those patients who are susceptible to metastasis and may need more aggressive treatment. Or, such a blood test could spare patients at low risk from having to undergo some of the side effects of treatment.
Dr. Paul Fisher is developing gene therapies with IL/24, an immune modulator gene he discovered. IL/24 causes primary and spreading tumor cells throughout the body to commit ‘cell suicide’ but is non-toxic to healthy cells. IL/24 also activates the immune system, inhibits new blood vessel formation to starve tumors of vital blood and nutrients, and sensitizes tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
One IL/24 gene therapy includes a gene that fluoresces (lights up) when IL/24 finds and destroys tumor cells for a theranostic or detection- and treatment-monitoring approach. IL/24 when combined with a patient’s own immune T cells (adoptive cell therapy) supercharges the T cells to fight cancer. Research progress is advancing these gene therapies for primary and metastatic kidney, prostate, breast, lung, colon, brain and other cancers.
Together, Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee have focused lL/24 gene therapy research for a new treatment for the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. With support from NFCR, IL/24 gene therapy will advance soon to a Phase I clinical trial to provide GBM patients hope for a new effective treatment. This treatment could one day benefit kidney cancer patients, too.
Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS) are vital ancient enzymes that make proteins in all living things. Dr. Paul Schimmel and Dr. Xiang-Lei Yang, experts in aaRS research, also study the enzyme’s other unexpected roles. One aaRS, SerRS, inhibits a pro-cancer gene and thwarts cancer’s growth and may play a role in activating the immune system to inhibit tumor progression. Expression of SerRS positively correlates with greater survival in patients with triple negative breast cancer as well as those with clear cell renal carcinoma and other cancers. SerRS may also be a suppressor of metastasis as enzyme levels are significantly decreased in breast tissue during metastasis. This critical research may lead to a novel way to treat cancer. SerRS level could potentially be used as a negative biomarker for metastasis, guiding selection of patients in clinical trials.
Dr. Wayne Marasco, who received NFCR funding for 25 years, has had great success in developing Mabs – proteins that are produced to bind to only one substance. One Mab attaches to carbonic anhydrase IX (CAIX), a protein highly expressed in renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. Once attached, the CAIX Mab stops abnormal cancer growth. His team developed a promising immunotherapy for metastatic kidney cancer. The therapy not only includes CAIX Mabs to bind to CAIX growth-promoting proteins on kidney cancer cells, but also unblocks the immune system ‘T cells’ to enable more rigorous attacks against cancer.