#WorldKidneyDay: What everyday habits can you change to lower your risk of kidney cancer?

The Kidneys. 3D rendered anatomical illustration.
Written by Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

This World Kidney Day, experts explain the links between a person’s risk for kidney cancer and factors including “obesity, high blood pressure, workplace exposure to certain substances and smoking.”

Each year, March 11 marks World Kidney Day. The annual campaign aims to raise awareness about these vital organs, and teach the public how to improve kidney health.

“There are many habits that one can change in order to minimise the risk of developing kidney cancer,” said Dr Bha Ndungane-Tlakula, Country Medical Director at Pfizer South Africa. “Firstly, smoking tobacco doubles the risk of developing kidney cancer, and is attributed to around 30% of kidney cancers in men and 25% in women.”

Proper nutrition and regular check-ups are key to ensuring healthy kidney function. The kidneys are pair of bean-shaped organs situated at the back of the abdominal area. The kidneys filter the body of waste material, but also helps to regulate vitamins, hormones and other vital substances.

Signs and symptoms of kidney damage include changes in how much one urinates, decreased mental sharpness, muscle twitches and cramps and fatigue and weakness. While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, treatment can slow the disease and help relieve the symptoms.

Understanding kidney cancer

“Kidney cancer is almost twice as prevalent in men than in women. Further, those over 50 years of age are largely susceptible to kidney cancers,” Tlakula said in a statement. “Along with this, links have been established between obesity, high blood pressure, workplace exposure to certain substances and smoking.”

“Kidney cancer is caused by DNA cell mutations that may result in uncontrolled cell division and growth. It is therefore imperative to consider your risk profile or get screened should any symptoms arise,” said Tlakula.

Those who have direct family members diagnosed with kidney cancer should take heed as this can increase their risk of developing the disease. The risk increases if extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles have also been diagnosed, explained Tlakula.

Early symptoms of kidney cancer including blood in the urine, lower back pain on one side not caused by injury, or a mass or lump on the side or lower back, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa). Further symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss not caused by dieting, prolonged fever not linked to an infection  as well as anaemia, which is a low red blood cell count.

“South Africans must become proactive when it comes to their health,” said Tlakula. “Should you experience any symptoms or have a history of kidney cancer in your family it is advisable to contact your healthcare professional to ensure a possible early diagnosis and treatment to battle this disease.”

Kidneys and other diseases

According to the World Health Organisation, kidney disease has an indirect impact on global morbidity and mortality by increasing the risks associated with at least five other major killers. These include heart diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV infection and even malaria.

2016 National Cancer Registry (

“Another factor to consider is high blood pressure or hypertension, particularly in men,” said Tlakula. “Along with this, obesity is also linked to kidney cancer which places greater emphasis on the need for all South Africans to maintain a healthy body weight by eating a well-balanced, low fat diet containing fruits and vegetables.”

In South Africa, the most-diagnosed cancer for women is breast cancer and for men it is prostate cancer, according to the latest figures from the National Cancer Registry. The incidence of kidney cancer is expected to increase, according to Cansa, driven by risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and smoking. —Health-e News

About the author

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.