You are here: Home » Conditions & Treatments » Cancer » Renal (Kidney)
Friday, 19 Oct 2018

Kidney Cancer (Renal Cell Carcinoma)

E-mail Print PDF

What is kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the kidney. Renal cell cancer (or renal cell carcinoma) is the most common type of kidney cancer. The kidneys are located on either side of the spine in the back, just above the waist. They make urine by taking waste products and extra salts and fluid from the blood. They also help control blood pressure. The cause of this disease is not known. It happens mostly in adults who are over 40 years old.

The risk for kidney cancer is higher if you:

  • are male 
  • smoke 
  • are overweight 
  • have von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (a rare hereditary disease) 
  • are on long-term kidney dialysis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms can include:

  • blood in the urine (most common sign) 
  • a mass that can be felt in the abdomen or flank 
  • flank pain 
  • unexpected weight loss 
  • tiredness 
  • fever and night sweats.

How is it diagnosed?

Sometimes kidney tumors are found when X-rays are taken for other reasons. Imaging studies such as CT, ultrasound and MRI are the most commonly used.


How is it treated?

The treatment for renal cell cancer depends on:

  • how large the tumor is 
  • whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body 
  • overall health of the individual

The usual treatment is surgical and can be performed laparoscopically or open:

  • Radical Nephrectomy – removal of the entire kidney 
  • Partial Nephrectomy – removal of the portion of the kidney containing

Other possible treatments include:

  • Renal artery embolization, a procedure that is done to block blood flow to the cancerous kidney. The tumor may then get smaller and easier to remove surgically. This procedure may also be done to help to relieve symptoms, such as pain and bloody urine, when surgery is not possible. 
  • Radiation therapy, which is the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells, is sometimes used before surgery to shrink the tumor. Biological therapy, which helps the body's own defenses fight the cancer. It is used when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. 
  • Chemotherapy – the use of cytotoxic drugs to kill cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

The chances of cure depend on how big the tumor is and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. If the cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs, the long-term survival rates after removal of the kidney cancer are good. Most people can live with just 1 kidney if the other is removed.  If the disease has spread to other organs, surgery to remove the kidney is not as helpful.