It’s critical to know that kidney cancer affects about 65,000 people each year in the US, and about 15,000 people will actually die from kidney cancer on an annual basis. Some of the causes include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and a family history of the disease. Symptoms to look out for include blood in your urine, incessant pain in your side, a lump or mass in your side or abdomen, sudden weight loss, fever, and fatigue. If you notice any of these, be sure to speak with your doctor. It’s key to keep in mind that in the setting of kidney cancer, we’re seeing a rise in the incidence of the disease by about 3% per year, which we think is probably due to improvements in CT scans and MRIs that are picking up more tumors.
The main goal of my research is to identify new targets for kidney cancer therapy and to develop new drugs. It’s been amazing to me that, since 2005, we’ve actually had seven new drugs approved by the FDA. That said, I don’t think we’re anywhere near curing kidney cancer. Typically, when a patient walks into my clinic with disease that’s spread to his or her lungs or bones or other organs, I’m forced to deliver a prognosis of two to three years. I would certainly like to improve upon this by offering new and novel therapies.
The biggest challenge every researcher across the US and I face nowadays is the lack of funding for research. Government funding for research has been slashed and, as such, we are always looking for new and alternative sources of funding. This is why efforts such as Stand Up To Cancer are so critical to the success of kidney cancer research here and elsewhere.
What really keeps me going in the clinic on a day-to-day basis is that fact that although there certainly are cases in which we are not able to dramatically alter outcomes, I do have a population of patients in my clinic who represent long-term survivors. These are individuals who were given a prognosis of anywhere between six months and two to three years who are alive years and years later. Seeing them grow, seeing their families grow, watching their kids grow older — it really provides a sense of personal achievement. I want to keep at this job so that I can turn every patient into a long-term survivor.
I’d like to tell the story of a real patient, whom we’ll call “Judy.” This is a patient who had a diagnosis of kidney cancer in her mid-60s. Very pleasant lady, very limited other health-related problems. When Judy’s kidney cancer was diagnosed, it had already spread to several areas in her lungs.