Kidney cancer

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is a kind of cancer that occurs in the kidneys. Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of your fist. They are located behind your abdominal organs, with one kidney on each side of your spine. The incidence of kidney cancer seems to be increasing. One reason for this may be the fact that imaging techniques such as computerized tomography (CT) scan are being used more often. These tests may lead to the accidental discovery of more kidney cancers.

How common is kidney cancer?

The National Cancer Institute estimates that there were more than 61,000 new cases of kidney cancer in the United States in 2015. In adults, the most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma. Other less common types of kidney cancer can occur. Young children are more likely to develop a kind of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?

Signs and symptoms of a kidney cancer are various depending on the stage detected. Kidney cancer doesn’t usually cause any symptoms in its early stages. As the cancer progresses, the symptoms may include:

  • Persistent back pain, especially just below your ribs
  • Blood in your urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Flank pain
  • Recurring fevers
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Pale skin
  • An intolerance to cold
  • Vision problems
  • Excessive hair growth in women

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes kidney cancer?

Until now, it’s not precise what causes kidney cancer. Doctors know that kidney cancer begins when some kidney cells acquire mutations in their DNA. The mutations tell the cells to grow and divide rapidly. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can extend beyond the kidney. Some cells can break off and spread (metastasize) to distant parts of the body.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for kidney cancer?

There are plenty of risks engendering kidney cancer, include:

  • Being an older age
  • Being male
  • Being a long-term smoker
  • Having hypertension
  • Having long-term dialysis due to renal failure
  • Being obese
  • Having a horseshoe kidney, which is a type of congenital defect
  • Having polycystic kidney disease
  • Being exposed to toxins in the workplace

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed and some tests will be also recommended by your doctor. Tests and procedures used to diagnose kidney cancer include:

Blood and urine tests

Tests of your blood and your urine may give your doctor clues about what’s causing your signs and symptoms.

Imaging tests

Imaging tests allow your doctor to visualize a kidney tumor or abnormality. Imaging tests might include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Removing a sample of kidney tissue (biopsy)

In rare cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a small sample of cells (biopsy) from a suspicious area of your kidney. The sample is tested in a lab to look for signs of cancer. 

Once your doctor specifies a kidney lesion that might be kidney cancer, the next step is to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. Staging tests for kidney cancer may include additional CT scans or other imaging tests your doctor feels are appropriate.

Then your doctor assigns a number, called a stage, to your cancer. There are 4 primary stages in kidney cancer, include:

Stage I

At this stage, the tumor can be up to 2 3/4 inches (7 centimeters) in diameter. The tumor is confined to the kidney.

Stage II

A stage II kidney cancer is larger than a stage I tumor, but it’s still confined to the kidney.

Stage III

At this stage, the tumor extends beyond the kidney to the surrounding tissue and may also have spread to a nearby lymph node.

Stage IV

Cancer spreads outside the kidney, to multiple lymph nodes or to distant parts of the body, such as the bones, liver or lungs.

How is kidney cancer treated?

The treatment for kidney cancer focuses on removing the tumor from your body. This is frequently done through surgery. Surgery can be radical or conservative. Here are some common treatments options that may be recommended by your doctor including:

Radical Nephrectomy

A radical nephrectomy is a surgical procedure that removes your kidney. The entire organ is removed, along with some surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. The adrenal gland may be removed as well. The surgery can be done through a large incision or with a laparoscope.

Conservative Nephrectomy

Conservative nephrectomy removes only the tumor, lymph nodes, and some surrounding tissue. Part of the kidney is left behind. This is also known as a nephron-sparing nephrectomy. Tumor cells can also be killed by freezing, which is called cryosurgery, or radiofrequency ablation, which involves applying heat.

Metastatic Kidney Cancer

Metastatic kidney cancer can’t be treated with surgery alone. After as much tumor is removed as possible with surgery, other treatments remain necessary. These may include immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation. The treatments can have side effects.


Immunotherapy uses synthetic versions of immunoactive chemicals found in the body. Interferon and aldesleukin (Proleukin) are examples of drugs used in immunotherapy.

Targeted Drugs

Targeted drugs are designed to block certain abnormal signals present in kidney cancer cells. They help stop the formation of new blood vessels to supply nutrients to the cancer cells.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage kidney cancer?

Following these useful tips may help you avoid this type of cancer:

  • Not smoking
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Protecting yourself from chemical toxins at work
  • Controlling your blood pressure

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: July 25, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019