If you have cancer, your oncologist will closely monitor your health to determine how the cancer is impacting the rest of your body. Your kidneys play a vital role in your overall health so your doctor will pay close attention to your kidney heath regardless of whether the cancer is in your kidneys.
Kidney cancer directly harms your kidneys and prevents them from working well. But other types of cancer can damage your kidneys, too. Some cancer treatments can also affect how well your kidneys work.
If you have cancer, here’s what you need to know about how the disease — and treatment options— may affect your kidneys.
What Do the Kidneys Do?
To understand the relation between cancer and the kidneys, it helps to know what kidneys do.
The kidneys remove waste products and extra fluid from the body. They do this by filtering the body’s blood supply so you can excrete waste products through the urine.
In fact, the kidneys filter about 150 quarts of blood daily. That’s almost a half a cup of blood every minute.
The kidneys also perform many other important functions, including:
- Making red blood cells.
- Creating a form of vitamin D needed to keep bones healthy.
- Controlling blood pressure.
- Maintaining correct levels of magnesium, potassium, and other electrolytes.
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How Does Cancer Affect the Kidneys?
With everything the kidneys do, it’s no surprise that cancer can be very dangerous to your kidney health.
Cancer can impact your kidneys by:
- Raising your blood pressure.
- Disrupting the balance of magnesium, potassium, and other electrolytes in your body.
- Injuring your kidneys or causing kidney disease.
Patients with cancer should undergo regular kidney function tests to identify problems before they become too serious.
Signs of Kidney Disease in Cancer Patients
If you have cancer, keep an eye out for these symptoms of kidney disease:
- Blood in your urine
- High blood pressure
- Itchy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Noticeable changes in daily volume of urine
- Swelling, mostly in the hands, ankles, and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual fatigue
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your cancer doctor. Treatment options include lifestyle changes like improving your diet or drinking more water. Various medications can help, too.
Your doctor will choose the right type of treatment once they know the problem’s source.
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How Does Cancer Treatment Affect the Kidneys?
The causes of kidney problems during cancer treatment are complex. They can include:
- Dehydration. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy often make you feel sick or tired. You may become dehydrated if these side effects prevent you from consuming enough water or food.
- Extra waste in the blood. Successful cancer treatment means your kidneys may be processing extra waste from the cancer itself. Your kidneys may have to work overtime to filter the cancer byproducts. That can leave you with a temporary decline in kidney function.
- Drugs that treat cancer. Some cancer drugs can hurt the kidneys. Your doctor may need to switch your cancer treatment to protect your kidneys.
Protecting Your Kidneys During Cancer Treatment
Kidney disease often creates few obvious symptoms. Cancer can make it even more difficult to detect kidney disease because you may mistake signs of kidney disease for symptoms or treatment side effects.
For that reason, UPMC urges anyone with a cancer diagnosis to schedule a visit with a kidney specialist.
The UPMC Kidney Disease Center provides focused care for patients with kidney disease who also have a cancer diagnosis. Kidney specialists closely monitor blood and urine tests to assess how well kidneys are tolerating cancer treatments.
It’s important to ask your cancer doctor if you should talk with a kidney specialist. To learn more about chronic kidney disease and how to prevent it, visit our website or call the UPMC Kidney Disease Center at 412-802-3043. You can also book an appointment here.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.