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Detecting Kidney Tumors

A team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and the Siteman Cancer Center has identified two proteins in urine that could lead to earlier and more accurate diagnosis of kidney cancer.

The research, published in the May issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, is the first to identify proteins in urine that appear to accurately reveal the presence of kidney cancer. An editorial in the journal called the research "the most promising proof of concept yet for the use of urine-based markers in the diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma."

The research is still in its early stages, but the researchers say a test is needed to catch kidney cancer at an earlier stage.

"Kidney cancer is silent and frequently fatal," says principal investigator Evan Kharasch, MD, PhD. "More than 80 percent of patients die within two years of diagnosis, and more than 95 percent die within five years because by the time cancer is detected, it often has spread. When it is identified early, however, kidney cancer is curable in a high percentage of individuals."

Kharasch and co-investigator Jeremiah Morrissey, PhD, focused on two proteins that are found in kidney tumors: aquaporin-1 (AQP1) and adipophilin (ADFP). They discovered large amounts of both in urine samples from kidney cancer patients. The researchers also found that when the kidney tumors were removed, AQP1 and ADFP levels in the urine declined precipitously.

"We believe that in the same way we use mammograms to screen for breast cancer and blood tests to screen for prostate cancer, we may look for these proteins in urine as a way to screen for kidney cancer," Kharasch says.

About 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year. Some 13,000 patients die from the disease annually.

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