Obesity and Hypertension May Increase the Risk of Kidney Cancer

The probability of a person developing cancer depends on both genetic and non-genetic factors.

A genetic factor is an inherited, unchangeable trait while a non-genetic factor is a variable in a person’s environment, which one can change. Some non-genetic factors play a role in facilitating the process of healthy cells turning cancerous. Several cancers have no known environmental correlation but are known to have a genetic predisposition, which may put a person at a higher risk for a certain cancer if a family member has that type of cancer.

Recently, attention has been focused on some non-genetic factors, such as diet, exercise, pollution, and stress, and their association with cancer. Ongoing research continues to uncover environmental characteristics and/or exposures that may increase or decrease the risk of developing different types of cancer. These research efforts are important in that a person may be able to change a behavior(s) in order to decrease the risk of cancer development.

Results from a recent study published in The England Journal of Medicine, show a direct association between obesity and/or hypertension (high blood pressure) and the development of renal cell (kidney) cancer. The kidneys are a pair of bean shaped organs located on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter the blood and eliminate waste in the urine through a complex system of filtration tubules. All of the blood in the body passes through the kidneys approximately 20 times an hour. Renal cell cancer is considered to be an uncommon form of cancer, but is among the most rapidly increasing of all types of cancers in incidence in the United States. It is most often characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the lining of the filtration tubules of the kidney. Advanced renal cell cancer is rarely curable; therefore, research efforts are focused on prevention of this disease.

Researchers from the United States National Cancer Institute and Umea University in Switzerland recently examined health records of almost 365,000 men from 1971 to 1995. Men who were overweight had a 30 to 60 percent greater risk of developing renal cell cancer. The patients who were the most overweight had the greatest risk for developing this disease. Additionally, there was a direct correlation found to exist between hypertension (high blood pressure) and the development of renal cell cancer in these persons.

This study suggests that maintaining a healthy body weight and normal blood pressure may decrease the risk of a person developing renal cell cancer. Persons who are overweight and/or have high blood pressure may wish to speak with their doctor about a weight loss program or treatment to lower blood pressure in order to help prevent renal cell cancer. (The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 343, No 18, pp1305-1311, 2000)

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