(Renal Cell Carcinoma)
Kidney cancer is cancer that starts in the kidneys. The kidneys are found just above the waist, on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter blood and make urine. The main types of kidney cancer are:
- Wilms tumor —happens mainly in children
- Renal cell carcinoma—happens in adults, different types based on where they start
Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. These cells go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.
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Kidney cancer is more common in men, and in people over 50 years old. Your chances of kidney cancer are higher for:
Kidney cancer may cause:
- Blood in the urine
- Lower back pain
- A lump in the belly
- Weight loss
- Signs of anemia such as feeling tired, pale skin, or fast heart rate
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Blood and urine tests may be done to rule out more common issues like UTI. Images of the kidneys may be taken with:
A growth on the kidney may also be found when taking images for other reasons. Cancer is confirmed with a biopsy. A sample of suspicious tissue is removed and examined in a lab.
The exam and your test results will help find out the stage of cancer you have. Staging guides your treatment. Kidney cancer is staged from 1 to 4. Stage 1 is a very localized cancer. Stage 4 is a spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer treatment is based on the stage and type of cancer and overall health. More than one treatment may be used. Treatment options include:
Surgery is done to remove as much cancer as possible. Nearby lymph nodes or other sites with cancer will also be removed. Surgery may be:
- Partial nephrectomy—removal of part of the kidney to treat smaller tumors
- Radical nephrectomy—remove entire kidney, adrenal gland, and nearby fatty tissue and lymph nodes
Smaller areas of cancer may be destroyed with ablation. It may be cryoablation or radiofrequency ablation. Probes are passed through the skin to the tumor. Cold or high energy radiowaves are passed to the tumor until it is destroyed. This process may be used in those who cannot tolerate surgery.
Surgery can also be used to debulk tumors that are causing symptoms.
Targeted therapy is medicine that blocks tumors from growing and spreading for a time. It may be used after surgery to lower the chance of cancer coming back. It may also be used for cancer that cannot removed with surgery.
This therapy uses medicines to help the immune system fight and kill cancer cells. It may be used for cancer that cannot be removed with surgery.
Radiation therapy uses beams of radiation to target and kill cancer cells. It is not always used for kidney cancer. Radiation therapy is most often used to shrink tumors that are causing problems like pain or bleeding. External radiation therapy comes from a source outside the body.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It is not very effective against kidney cancer. It may only be used if other treatments are not working as they should.
American Cancer Society
Kidney Cancer Association
Canadian Cancer Society
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
General information about renal cell cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/kidney/patient/kidney-treatment-pdq. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Kidney cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/kidney-cancer.html. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114704/Renal-cell-carcinoma. Accessed January 29, 2021.
10/1/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T576498/Complications-of-obesity: Bhaskaran K, Douglas I, Forbes H, et al. Body-mass index and risk of 22 specific cancers: a population-based cohort study of 5.24 million UK adults. Lancet. 2014;384(9945):755-765.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/29/2021