Keeping Your Single Kidney Healthy

Treatment for childhood cancer sometimes requires the removal of one kidney. You can live a normal life with one kidney, as long as it remains healthy. Here’s what you need to know to assess your risk for problems with your single kidney and to help keep it as healthy as possible.

Am I at Risk for Kidney Problems?

These treatments for childhood cancer can cause problems in your remaining kidney:

  • radiation to the kidney, abdomen, or whole body
  • certain chemotherapy medicines, such as cisplatin, carboplatin, methotrexate, and ifosfamide
  • certain antibiotics used to treat bacterial and fungal infection, such as tobramycin, gentamicin, and amphotericin
  • certain medicines used to treat graft-versus-host disease, such as cyclosporine and FK-506 (tacrolimus)

Other factors that can increase your risk for kidney problems include:

  • medical conditions that may affect the kidney, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and a tumor involving the kidney
  • history of urinary tract problems, such as frequent urinary tract infections, back-flow of urine into the kidney (reflux), or other urinary tract abnormalities
  • removal of the bladder (cystectomy)

If you are at risk for kidney problems, see the related Health Link: “Kidney Health after Childhood Cancer.”

Should I Be Checked for Kidney Problems?

Childhood cancer survivors should have medical check-ups at least yearly that include a blood pressure check and urinalysis.

In addition, at your first long-term follow-up visit (but at least two years from your last cancer treatment), you should have a blood test to assess your kidney function and electrolytes. If you have low levels of blood salts and minerals you may need to take prescription supplements to avoid long-term health problems, such as heart problems.

If you have high blood pressure, protein in the urine, or other signs of worsening kidney problems, you should see a kidney specialist (nephrologist).

What Can I Do to Keep My Kidney Healthy?

Follow these tips to help keep your kidney healthy:

  • Drink plenty of water, especially when playing sports, while out in the sun, and during hot weather.
  • Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection (burning when you urinate, urinating more often than usual, or feeling an urgent need to urinate).
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new prescription, over-the-counter, or herbal medicine. Make sure that they know that you have only one kidney.
  • Use pain or fever medicine that contains aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen with caution. These drugs, called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can cause kidney damage, especially when taken in high doses or when two or more are taken with caffeine or codeine over long periods of time. If you need long-term medicine for pain, talk with your doctor about treatment options that won’t harm your kidneys.

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