Kidney Cancer: Overview
What is kidney cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
Cancer that starts in the kidney is called kidney or renal cancer.
The kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs. Each is about the size of a bar of soap. They
sit in the body toward the middle to lower part of the back. There is 1 kidney on
each side of the spine. The kidneys help filter waste and excess fluid from the
The main type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma.
About 90% of kidney cancer tumors are this type. Other less-common types of kidney
Who is at risk for kidney cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
The risk factors for kidney cancer include:
Being a man
Being African American
Misuse of certain medicines, such as water pills (diuretics)
and over-the-counter pain relievers
Contact with certain chemicals, such as the metal cadmium,
herbicides, and organic solvents
High blood pressure
Advanced or chronic kidney disease
Certain inherited conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau
disease and hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma
Family history of kidney cancer
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for
kidney cancer and what you can do about them.
Can kidney cancer be prevented?
You may be able to lower your risk for kidney cancer by making
some lifestyle changes. These include:
Are there screening tests for kidney cancer?
For people of average risk, there are no recommended screening
tests for kidney cancer. Screening tests are done to check for disease in people
who don’t have symptoms.
If you have a family history of kidney cancer or other
disorders linked to the disease, you may want to think about genetic testing and
kidney cancer screening.
If genetic tests show a risk for kidney cancer, your
healthcare provider may advise you get screened often for kidney cancer. There
are no standard guidelines for how often you should be screened if you are at
increased risk. Your healthcare provider will advise a screening schedule based
on your overall health and risk factors.
What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer often causes no symptoms in its early stages. As the
cancer grows, it can cause:
Blood in the urine
Pain in the side or lower back
A lump in the kidney area
Fast weight loss
Loss of appetite
Swelling of the legs and ankles
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is
important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare
provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
If your healthcare provider thinks you may have kidney cancer, you
will need certain exams and tests to be sure. Your healthcare provider will ask you
about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of
disease. He or she will also give you a physical exam. You may also have one or more
of these tests:
After a diagnosis of kidney cancer, you’ll likely have other
tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can
help determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer
has spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to
know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Ask your healthcare provider
to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can understand.
How is kidney cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of kidney cancer you
have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to
cure you, control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with
your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what
the risks and side effects may be. Other things to think about are if the cancer can
be removed with surgery and your overall health.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Systemic treatment
is used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled around your body.
Surgery, ablation, and radiation are local treatments. When taken by pill or
injection, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and chemotherapy are systemic treatments.
You may have just one treatment or a combination of treatments.
Kidney cancer may be treated with:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and
Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might
have and ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can
take to help prevent or control side effects.
Coping with kidney cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be tough on the mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work
together to ease the effect of cancer and it symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with as many protein foods as
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don’t get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have