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Every year 65,000 people in the United States alone are diagnosed with kidney cancer. Now doctors report that people who use non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium may be at elevated risk for the disease.

Statistics Cited in Headline Stories, However, Are Deceptive

Previous studies have suggested that these common over-the-counter pain relievers might even be helpful in the treatment of kidney cancer. Researchers at the US National Cancer Institute found that ibuprofen makes cancerous cells in the kidney more susceptible to radiation treatment. But is it possible that taking medications like Aleve and Advil could really cause cancer?
 

Common Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

About 1 of every 30 persons who gets cancer gets kidney cancer. There are few early warning signs, and symptoms of kidney cancer are often misdiagnosed as symptoms of other diseases. But about 40% of people who develop kidney cancer have other genetic conditions.

Specific genes have been identified that seem to trigger hereditary papillary renal carcinoma, hereditary renal carcinoma, familial renal oncocytoma, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, and von Hippel-Lindau syndrome. If someone in your family has had kidney cancer after developing on of these diseases, then there is an elevated risk that you will develop kidney cancer, too (although it's not a sure thing).

In Europe, Scandinavians are at greater risk of the disease, but in the United States, the greatest number of deaths from kidney disease occurs among African-Americans. Far more men die of kidney cancer than women. But there are also causes of kidney cancer that can be controlled:

  • Smoking doubles the risk of kidney cancer, and about 1/3 of Americans who develop kidney cancer smoke. The  more you smoke, the greater your risk of kidney cancer.
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure is associated both with increased risk of both kidney cancer and kidney failure.
  • Occupational exposure to cadmium, used in electroplating and the making of batteries, increases the risk of kidney cancer.
  • Phenacetin, which is used to cut cocaine, greatly increases the risk of kidney cancer.

Women who have had hysterectomies are at greater risk for kidney cancer, especially if there are problems with the placement of the catheter to facilitate urination while tissues heal.

Also, people on dialysis tend to develop acquired cystic kidney disease, which often leads to kidney cancer. People who develop cystic kidney disease of the kidneys while on dialysis are 30 times more likely to develop kidney cancer.

All of these risk factors, however, do not result in a very high rate of kidney cancer. Only one in every 4800 people develops kidney cancer in any given year. If there are no special risk factors, the lifetime risk of developing kidney cancer is about 1 in 70. About 1 in every 24,000 people dies of kidney cancer in any given year, and about 1 in 350 deaths is due to the disease. Even if you develop cystic kidney disease while you are on dialysis, you have less than a 1 in 2 risk of developing kidney cancer. So how big a risk factor is using ibuprofen and naproxen sodium?

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