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

It’s also possible for cervical cancer to impact other areas of the body, such as the kidneys. Some individuals with advanced cervical cancer can go on to develop kidney failure.

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

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

Generally speaking, the higher the stage number, the further the cancer has spread. Kidney involvement in cervical cancer is typically observed in advanced stages, specifically stages 3 and 4.

Kidney failure is when your kidneys cannot function effectively to remove waste and extra fluids from your body. It can be caused by damage to the kidneys, 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’ll look at some of the ways that 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 it’s not addressed. Hydronephrosis can be treated using:

  • Stent placement. A small metal tube called a stent is placed into the affected ureter. The stent helps to widen a narrowed ureter, allowing for 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 drain away urine that’s built up within the kidney. It can be used as an alternative when stents cannot be placed.

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

Kidney failure due to cisplatin can be prevented. If kidney damage is detected while you’re on cisplatin, your oncologist will likely switch you to a different chemotherapy drug to prevent additional damage.

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

If you have a cervical cancer diagnosis, it’s a good idea to be aware of the potential signs of kidney damage so you can seek prompt medical evaluation.

Some symptoms that may point to kidney damage include:

Seek emergency care if you experience symptoms like:

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

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

Remember that having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll certainly develop kidney failure with cervical cancer. It just means that you may be at an 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 that’s located outside your body. This filter works to remove waste and extra fluid from your blood. The filtered blood is then returned to your body.
  • Peritoneal dialysis. Peritoneal dialysis involves adding a dialysis solution into your abdomen through a catheter. Over a few hours, the solution absorbs waste and extra fluids, after which it can be drained from your body and disposed of.

However, dialysis is associated with its own side effects. Your oncologist as well as a kidney specialist (nephrologist) will help to inform you about dialysis, its risks, and how it may impact your cancer treatment and outlook.

A kidney transplant is also a treatment option for kidney failure. However, you must be healthy enough to undergo and recover from the operation. As such, kidney transplants aren’t recommended for people with active cancer.

When we talk about survival rates and outcome, it’s important to note that this information is determined based on the outcome of many people with cervical cancer. They don’t account for recent advances in treatment or individual factors like age and overall health.

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

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

Kidney failure in cervical cancer can also be caused by hydronephrosis. As such, having 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 individuals (23 percent) had hydronephrosis at some point in their illness. The condition was associated with decreased survival at all time points.

This finding is supported by a 2021 study in people with cervical cancer that compared 445 people with hydronephrosis to 1,780 people without hydronephrosis. It found that the individuals with hydronephrosis had a higher risk of death from any cause.

It’s possible that cervical cancer can impact the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney failure. Kidney involvement typically occurs in the more advanced 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 from cancer metastasizing to the kidneys.

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