Survivorship Takes Front and Center for World Kidney Cancer Day

It is always a pleasure when more cancer groups talk about survivorship. 

But as many cancer survivors will tell you, even after the all-clear is given, it’s still an uphill battle. Luckily, the International Kidney Cancer Coalition (IKCC) wants to start the conversation with their theme: We need to talk about living with kidney cancer. It isn’t something you hear most cancer groups talk about, but the people at IKCC believe it’s worth having a chat about. 

Kidney cancer isn’t normally at the top of mind compared to lung, breast, prostate or skin cancers. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 8,100 kidney and renal pelvis cancer cases were diagnosed in 2022, and about a quarter of those diagnosed will die from it. It also has a 73 per cent 5-year-survival rate. 

However, like any cancer, the treatment itself is taxing on the body. Treatment options include removal of a kidney, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy with drugs in the case of a stage 4 diagnosis. Often these therapies at best hinder the kidney’s ability to process waste, and often lead to digestive issues, nausea, diarrhea and loss of appetite. All the while, the body needs nutrition to repair itself from the cancer and the treatment. 

The IKCC notes that eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet will help with recovery and living with the cancer. This first pillar of kidney cancer survivorship is to make sure you do not become malnourished during cancer treatment. Four to five meals a day are recommended, and suggested foods include healthy oils like olive oil, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy proteins like fish, poultry, beans, nuts and lentils.  

Avoid and limit red meat, cold meat, butters and cut down on processed food. The method of cooking should also be taken into consideration, with steaming, baking, grilling or stewing as the preferred methods over deep frying, battering, breading or barbequing. Salt has an impact on the kidneys, and limiting processed foods, snacks, tinned foods, pickled foods or certain seafoods should be considered.  

It also should go without saying, but nixing alcohol and smoking are key to survivorship. 

The second pillar of kidney cancer survivorship is exercise. Exercise helps with the kidneys ability to regulate itself, lower the stress and inflammations on the organs, and keep the blood pressure down. As obesity is a factor in kidney cancer, regular exercise can help stop recurrence of the disease, regardless if survivors are considered overweight. The IKCC recommends around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which is exercise that makes you breathe harder without feeling out of breath. Brisk walking, tennis, easy cycling and swimming, and sports like golf and softball are considered moderate intensity exercises.  

To many cancer patients and survivors, this advice may sound familiar. Diet and exercise can make the difference in a cancer survivor’s journey. We must caution, of course, that lifestyle changes don’t stop cancer entirely, nor do adopting unhealthy habits mean a one-way ticket to the oncologist. However, exercise and eating healthy have been shown to help, and in the case of kidney cancer, any little bit helps in turning a patient into a survivor. 

The IKCC has a couple of guides for nutrition and exercise that you can find here.