Objectives: A diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma (RCC) early enough for potentially curative surgery is difficult. We wanted to establish whether the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) in RCC patients had begun to rise before the appearance of any symptoms or signs and, if so, when.
Design: A retrospective study of the evolution of the ESR in 236 randomly selected RCC patients during several years before diagnosis, comparing the results with previously obtained population-based control values.
Results: It is generally held that RCC patients have a high ESR at diagnosis. In our material, however, 29.7% of the RCC cases had an ESR that at this time was at or below the population-based upper reference limit; it had not increased significantly, neither with time before diagnosis, nor with age. In 70.3% of RCC patients the ESR was increased and had been significantly rising for up to 6 years or more before diagnosis. This had not been adequately responded to, probably because the physicians lacked knowledge of the patients' baseline ESR, and because none of the prediagnostic readings had been above the population-based reference limit.
Conclusions: Systematic ESR graphic recordings over time will enable a physician to determine each individual's baseline value, and hence note any continuously rising trend, which should lead to further investigations, e.g. an ultrasound kidney examination. This may provide an early clue to many otherwise non-symptomatic RCC cases. It is time for a reappraisal of the predictive value of the ESR to discover early RCC, and possibly other diseases as well.