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Understanding Kidney Cancer: Symptoms, types, and risk factors

Team AckoJun 15, 2023

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs that rest behind your stomach. They do several tasks, such as detoxifying the blood, removing waste, balancing fluids, and producing hormones to supplement red blood cells and control blood pressure. Sometimes, cells in the kidneys grow out of control and form a tumour, which is called Kidney Cancer. This article talks about the signs, causes, types, risk factors, treatment and prevention of Kidney Cancer.

Kidney Cancer



What is Kidney Cancer?

Kidney Cancer develops when cells in one or both kidney tissues grow abnormally. These cells form a lump called tumour, which can be cancerous or non-cancerous. A benign tumour (non-cancerous) is usually small, and it can grow but will not spread.

Malignant (cancerous) tumours are large kidney masses that may or may not spread to the other parts of the body. Some cancerous cells grow slowly, whereas others are more aggressive and spread quickly to the other tissues and vital organs.

Types of Kidney Cancer

There are four types of Kidney Cancer, which are as follows.

1. RCC (Renal cell carcinoma)

It is also known as renal cell cancer, which is one of the common Kidney Cancers. It develops in the kidney’s filtration system. There can be one or more tumours in one or both kidneys.

2. Wilms tumour (or Wilms’ tumour)

This type of cancer primarily affects children ages 3 to 4. It is usually found in one kidney, but sometimes it can develop in both kidneys at the same time. Wilms tumour is rarely found in adults.

3. Transitional cell cancer

It is also known as Urothelial carcinoma, which occurs in adults. It develops in the area (renal pelvis) where urine gathers before it moves to the bladder.

4. Renal sarcoma

This type of Kidney Cancer is rare, and it begins in the soft connective tissues of the kidneys. It often reoccurs in the same area or can even spread to nearby organs and bones.

Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

The signs may not be noticeable in the early stages. However, you may notice the following symptoms once cancer begins to spread.

  • Blood in your urine

  • Low-grade fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Tiredness

  • Pain in your back or side

  • Weight loss

  • High blood pressure

  • Lump in your kidney area

  • Bone pain

What causes Kidney Cancer?

The exact cause of Kidney Cancer is still not known. Doctors know that it develops when DNA in one or both kidneys changes. These cells divide rapidly and lead to uncontrolled growth, which forms a tumour. This tumour or lump can also spread to other body parts and bones.

Risk factors of Kidney Cancer

The following risk factors are strongly linked to developing this type of cancer.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Individuals with a family history of cancer of the kidney

  • Obese people are at higher risk

  • Smoking increases the odds of getting this disease

  • It affects people between the ages of 65 and 74

  • People who undergo long-term dialysis to treat chronic kidney failure

  • Individuals who have received radiation therapy for cancer of reproductive organs

  • People born with certain inherited disorders such as hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, VHL (Von Hippel-Lindau disease), and tuberous sclerosis complex

Different stages of Kidney Cancer

The stage of Kidney Cancer depends on the size and location of the lump. Further, how much cancerous cells have invaded the surrounding body organs is also taken into consideration.

After going through the diagnostic test results, the doctor will be able to determine the stage of cancer. Basically, there are four types of stages, which are as follows.

Stage I

It is the starting stage where the tumour begins to form and is not larger than 7 cm. This stage also shows that the cancer is in the kidney only and has not spread to other tissues.

Stage II

In this stage, the cancer is still at the same tissues or lymph nodes but is larger than 7 cm.

Stage III

This stage denotes that the tumour has spread to the nearby organs.

Stage IV

It is the advanced stage in which the tumour extends to distant organs such as the lungs, brain, lymph nodes, liver, and bones.

How is Kidney Cancer screened and diagnosed?

Diagnostic procedures for Kidney Cancer will include imaging and laboratory tests. Also, your doctor will ask about the symptoms you have been facing. You will be asked about your medical history as well. Apart from these, a complete physical exam will be performed. After reviewing and discussing thoroughly, the healthcare professional will order the following tests.

Blood tests to see the number of blood cells. This test also shows whether your kidney is working properly or not.

Urinalysis to evaluate if your urine contains any invisible traces of blood.

CT scan to determine if the tumour is cancerous or has spread to other body parts.

Ultrasound to help figure out if the mass is a solid tumour or a fluid-filled cyst.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to get complete images of the kidneys and abdomen.

Renal mass biopsy, in some cases, to assess if the tissue contains any cancerous cells.

Treatment options for Kidney Cancer

There are two main treatment options for Kidney Cancer, which are discussed below.

1. Surgical option

It is the common treatment for this type of cancer. It is effective for those who are in stages 1, 2, or 3.

There are two further types of surgeries, partial and radical.

  • Partial nephrectomy: In this surgery, a part of the kidney with the tumour is removed.

  • Radical nephrectomy: During this surgery, your whole kidney, along with the nearby tissues (if needed), is removed.

2. Non-surgical option

Some people do not need surgery, and for them, the following treatments are effective.

1. Active surveillance

It is the best treatment option for those whose tumour is less than 4 cm.

2. Thermal ablation

In this process, a small tumour is destroyed by either burning (radiofrequency ablation) or freezing (cryoablation).

3. Immunotherapy

This treatment uses medicines that help the immune system fight cancer.

4. Targeted drugs

These medications combat the growth of blood vessels that supplements cancer.

5. Radiation therapy

In this therapy, high-powered energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells.

6. Chemotherapy

This treatment is helpful in some cases, and it is counted when targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy do not work for an individual. In chemotherapy, individuals receive medications either by mouth or through a vein.

How to prevent Kidney Cancer

Following are some of the ways you can consider to reduce your risk of getting Kidney Cancer.

  • Quit smoking

  • Manage high blood pressure

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Control your blood sugar if you are a diabetic

  • Avoid prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Stay away from toxins such as cadmium. Individuals working with welding materials, paints, and batteries are at increased risk of developing this type of cancer

Frequently asked questions

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Kidney Cancer


Is Kidney Cancer curable?

It is treatable when found in the early stages.

What is the most common age for Kidney Cancer?

It is uncommon in younger people and usually occurs in older adults aged 65 to 74.

What is Kidney Cancer pain like?

Pain can vary, and individuals may feel dull or sharp pain. One must see a doctor if the pain is persistent and does not go away in a few days.

Where does Kidney Cancer usually spread?

It spreads to the bones and lungs. It can even affect other body parts such as ovaries, testicles, liver, and brain.

What puts stress on the kidneys?

Emotional stress, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar can put stress on the kidneys.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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