Kidney Cancer: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: February 22, 2019

Kidney cancer is caused by kidney cells growing out of control. As the number of cells grow, they form into a tumor. The most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell cancer, which consists of several different types.

  • Clear cell renal cell carcinoma.
  • Papillary renal cell carcinoma.
  • Chromophobe renal cell carcinoma.
  • Rare types.
  • Unclassified.

Other types of kidney cancer include transitional cell carcinomas, renal sarcoma and Wilms Tumor (found commonly in children, but is rare in adults). Kidney cancer that has spread to the kidney from another part of the body is called metastatic cancer.

Risk Factors

Risk factors related to developing kidney cancer include:

  • Smoking (most prominent risk factor).
  • Obesity.
  • Workplace exposure to cadmium, some herbicides, and some organic solvents.
  • Family history of kidney cancer.
  • Other risk factors include: analgesic abuse, high blood pressure, hereditary diseases including von Hippel-Lindau disease and polycystic kidney disease.

Screening

There are no screening recommendations for kidney cancer.

Signs & Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

Signs and symptoms of a tumor in the kidney include:

  • Hematuria (blood in the urine),
  • Pain in your low back, usually on one side.
  • A mass you can feel on your side or lower back.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Losing weight.
  • Fever.
  • Anemia.

Signs and symptoms of kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body can include:

  • Night Sweats.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Increased calcium level in the blood.
  • Liver problems.

Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer

When your healthcare provider suspects kidney cancer, they will order tests to determine the extent of the cancer, which will help determine the treatment.

  • CT scan.
  • MRI.
  • Blood tests.
  • Urine tests.
  • Biopsy to determine if the mass is cancer or not. A pathology report summarizes the results of the biopsy and is sent to your healthcare provider. This report is an important part of planning your treatment. You can request a copy of your report for your records.

Staging Kidney Cancer

To guide treatment, kidney cancer is "staged." This stage is based on:

  • Size and location of the tumor
  • Whether cancer cells are in the lymph nodes
  • Whether cancer cells are in other areas of the body

Stages range from stage I (smallest, most confined tumors) to stage IV (tumors that have spread to other areas of the body). The stage and type of kidney cancer will guide your treatment plan.

Treatment

In general, the following treatments are used:

  • Surgery is the primary choice of treatment. Either part of the kidney, or the entire kidney, is removed. This is called a partial or complete nephrectomy.
  • Radiation therapy is used for patients who can’t tolerate surgery. Either external beam radiation or brachytherapy (internally implanted radiation) are used.
  • Targeted therapy is medication used to treat cancer by targeting a receptor found on the cancer cells and destroying it. This is a type of chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy is the use of medications to boost the body’s immune system to fight and destroy cancer cells. This is not used often.

This article is a basic guide to kidney cancer. You can learn more about your type of kidney cancer and treatment by using the links below.

All About Kidney Cancer

Surgical Procedures: Nephrectomy Due to Cancer

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