What is the link between cervical cancer and kidney failure?


Cervical cancer affects cells in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 14,480 new cervical cancer diagnoses in the United States by 2021.

It is also possible that cervical cancer affects other parts of the body, such as the kidneys. Some people with advanced cervical cancer can develop kidney failure.

This article will explore the link between cervical cancer and kidney failure, symptoms to watch out for, and potential treatment options.

After a diagnosis of cervical cancer, your oncologist will determine the stage. The stage describes how far the cancer has spread throughout the body and can inform both treatment options and outlook.

Generally speaking, the more stages, the more the cancer has spread. Kidney involvement in cervical cancer is usually seen in the advanced stages, especially stages 3 and 4.

Kidney failure occurs when your kidneys cannot work effectively to remove waste and extra fluids from your body. It can be caused by kidney damage, often due to conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension).

Cervical cancer can also potentially damage the kidneys, sometimes leading to kidney failure. We will see some of the ways this can happen below.

How can cervical cancer lead to kidney failure?

When cervical cancer spreads to other areas of the pelvis, it can block one or both ureters, which carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. This can lead to a condition called hydronephrosis.

In hydronephrosis, blocked ureters cause urine to build up in the kidneys. This can lead to kidney failure if left untreated. Hydronephrosis can be treated using:

  • Placement of the stent. A small metal tube called a stent is placed in the affected ureter. The stent helps widen a narrowed ureter, allowing urine to pass from the kidneys to the bladder.
  • Drainage. A nephrostomy tube is inserted through the skin and into the affected kidney. This helps to evacuate the urine that has accumulated in the kidney. It can be used as an alternative when stents cannot be placed.

Kidney damage can also occur as a side effect of some cervical cancer treatments, such as the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, which can be toxic to the kidneys. Although this side effect is often reversible, large doses or repeated cures can lead to kidney failure.

Kidney failure due to cisplatin can be prevented. If kidney damage is found while you are on cisplatin, your oncologist will likely switch you to another chemotherapy drug to prevent further damage.

It is also possible for cervical cancer to spread (metastasize) to the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney damage and failure. However, this is extremely rare. Since 2019, only 13 cases renal metastases had been reported in the medical literature.

If you have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, it is a good idea to be aware of the potential signs of kidney damage so that you can seek a prompt medical evaluation.

Some symptoms that may indicate kidney damage include:

Seek emergency care if you experience symptoms such as:

Some of the potential risk factors for developing kidney failure associated with cervical cancer include:

  • chemotherapy with cisplatin or the use of other drugs that are toxic to the kidneys
  • advanced age
  • a personal or family history of kidney disease
  • previous kidney injury or trauma
  • underlying health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure

Remember that just having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop kidney failure with cervical cancer. It just means that you are at increased risk compared to someone without these risk factors.

Overall, kidney failure is often treated first with dialysis. There are different types of dialysis, such as:

  • Hemodialysis. Hemodialysis uses a machine to move your blood through a filter outside your body. This filter works to remove waste and excess fluid from your blood. The filtered blood is then returned to your body.
  • Peritoneal dialysis. Peritoneal dialysis involves adding a dialysis solution to your abdomen using a catheter. Within hours, the solution absorbs waste and extra fluids, after which it can be flushed out of your body and eliminated.

However, dialysis is associated with its own side effects. Your oncologist and a kidney specialist (nephrologist) will inform you about dialysis, its risks and its impact on your cancer treatment and your outlook.

A kidney transplant is also a treatment option for kidney failure. However, you must be healthy enough to have and recover from the operation. So kidney transplants are not recommended for people with active cancer.

When we talk about survival rates and outcomes, it’s important to note that this information is determined based on the outcomes of many people with cervical cancer. They do not take into account recent advances in treatment or individual factors such as age and overall health.

Typically, kidney damage is associated with more advanced stages of cervical cancer in which the cancer has spread to nearby or distant organs. The outlook for this situation is often bleak.

According to National Cancer Institute, the 5-year survival rate for cervical cancer that has spread to regional lymph nodes is 58.2 percent. The 5-year survival rate for cervical cancer that has spread to more distant tissues is 17.6 percent.

Kidney failure in cervical cancer can also be caused by hydronephrosis. As such, hydronephrosis is also associated with a poor outlook.

A 2015 study reviewed the medical records of 279 people with cervical cancer. A total of 65 people (23%) had hydronephrosis at some point in their illness. The condition was associated with decreased survival at all time points.

This observation is supported by a Study 2021 in people with cervical cancer which compared 445 people with hydronephrosis to 1,780 people without hydronephrosis. He found that people with hydronephrosis had a higher risk of death from any cause.

It is possible for cervical cancer to impact the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney failure. Kidney damage usually occurs in the later stages of cervical cancer.

Kidney failure in cervical cancer can often be associated with blockage of the ureters, leading to hydronephrosis. It can also happen due to the use of certain chemotherapy drugs or cancerous metastases to the kidneys.

Kidney failure is often treated with dialysis, which helps filter waste and excess fluid from your blood. If you have kidney failure with cervical cancer, your doctors will discuss your treatment options with you, including their risks and benefits.

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