RCC101: What causes RCC?

Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common form of kidney cancer. And like most other cancers, the problem here is cells growing out of control.

What makes RCC challenging to treat is the way its cancer cells have evolved to overcome the body’s passive and active defenses against cancer.1,2

RCC vs. passive anti-tumour defenses

Cancer cells may grow faster than normal cells, but in the end, they are still living cells. Which means that like the rest of the body, they need nutrients and oxygen to survive.

As tumours grow, they adapt to the shrinking supply of nutrients and oxygen in their environment by shutting off the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) gene, which instructs the body to make new blood vessels around the tumour.1,3

RCC vs. active anti-tumour defenses

The body’s white blood cells are designed to kill off any cell that doesn’t belong in the body, including cancer cells. On the other hand, cancer cells have adapted to interfere with white blood cells to avoid being killed.1

Evidence of cells of RCC interfering with anti-tumour white blood cells was reported in the case of a 39-year old patient with RCC that’s spread to the lung. After he had the tumour removed from his kidney, his white blood cells went back to work clearing cancer cells from other parts of his body, including his lungs. He became cancer-free for at least 5 years thereafter.2

To learn more:

Treatments: Localized RCC

Treatments: Advanced RCC

References: 1. UpToDate. Epidemiology, pathology, and pathogenesis of renal cell carcinoma. Available at http://www.uptodate.com. Accessed on August 22, 2016. 2. Vogelzang NJ, et al. J Urol 1992;148:1247. 3. Jonasch E, et al. BMJ 2014;349:g4797.

Last updated: September 17, 2016.
Photo adapted from original by Yale Rosen, used under license.

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