I’ve written about how kidney stones are diagnosed, the various procedures and medications we use to treat them, and how you can prevent kidney stones in the future. But there’s one subject I haven’t addressed yet—and it’s one that patients may worry about, even if they don’t tell their doctor of their concerns. That subject is cancer, and specifically, if kidney stones will increase the risk of developing cancer in the urinary tract.
According to a meta-analysis based on pooled data from 13 studies, having a history of kidney or bladder stones can increase your risk of developing cancer in the urinary tract. However, in a study reported in Nature, the writers pointed to “surveillance bias” (which basically means our tools for detecting kidney cancer have become more advanced, so we’re seeing more cases of kidney cancer) as a probable factor in the findings of increased risk.
That said, the researchers did find through their analysis of familial cancer data and any possible correlations of kidney stones with the development of kidney cancer that “the study did not provide any data in support of [kidney stones] leading to systemic cancers.”
There are numerous other studies on the correlation between kidney stones and kidney cancer. Some say the risk is increased, while others say it isn’t. But there are some well-known risk factors for developing kidney cancer, and the good news is that some of them are factors you can control.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are several risk factors that might make you more likely to develop kidney cancer. Here are some of the top factors to consider.
It’s no surprise to anyone that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, but did you know it could contribute to your kidney cancer risk as well? The increased risk seems to be related to how much you smoke. Now’s the time to quit!
People who are very obese have a higher risk of developing kidney cancer. Scientists think this may be due to hormonal changes associated with obesity.
High blood pressure
Kidney cancer risk is higher in people with hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Some studies have suggested the risk may be caused by the hypertension itself, while others have suggested that the medications used to treat the disease might be a factor. Don’t stop taking your blood pressure meds without the approval of your doctor, though—failure to control high blood pressure can result in some very severe side effects, like stroke and blindness.
Many studies have suggested that workplace exposure to certain chemicals, including cadmium, some herbicides, and organic solvents, can increase the risk of kidney cancer. The solvent that produces the highest risk is trichloroethylene.
Family history of kidney cancer
People whose parents or other close relatives have had kidney cancer have a higher chance of developing it themselves. The risk is highest for people who have a brother or sister with the cancer. And while we can’t control our genetics, just knowing your risk level can help you stay vigilant and, if worse comes to worst, catch it early.
Kidney cancer is two times more common in men than it is in women. This could be because men are more likely to be smokers and are more likely to have suffered workplace chemical exposure.
African-Americans, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives are at a slightly higher risk of developing kidney cancer. Nobody’s quite sure what may cause this but, as with family history, it is good to be aware of.
When all is said and done, the best thing you can do if you’ve had kidney stones and you’re worried about your risk of developing kidney cancer is to talk to your doctor. If your doctor is concerned about your cancer risk, he or she can suggest some ways to either lower your risk or ensure that you get the screenings you need. Meanwhile, put out that cigarette, fill your water bottle with some lemon water, and get exercising!
If you want to avoid getting kidney stones in the first place or ever again, pick up a copy of my book, Even Urologists Get Kidney Stones. It’s available in paperback and Kindle format, and chock full of information, real stories, and helpful tips.