Kidney Cancer

What is kidney cancer?

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Kidney cancer is a disease that originates in the kidneys. As the body’s cells multiply, the cancer can spread throughout the body. Our kidneys’ primary role is filtering the body’s blood, and sometimes, kidneys can internally develop growths or tumors. The masses are not necessarily cancerous, but they can be. If you are experiencing symptoms of kidney cancer or growths, visit your physician as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and lead to quick and effective treatment.

What are symptoms of a kidney mass?

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Most people find that they do not notice symptoms of kidney masses in the early stages of growth. If you encounter any symptoms, they may include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Flank pain located between the ribs and hips
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss (unrelated to dieting)
  • Ongoing lower back pain on one side (not caused by an injury)
  • Lasting fever (not caused by an infection)
  • Low red blood cell count

Doctors discover kidney masses by chance more than 50% of the time. A medical professional may find a mass during an unrelated visit or generic health screening. Make sure that you stay up to date with your annual medical check-ups. If you notice any of these symptoms, make an appointment with a professional.

How is kidney cancer diagnosed?

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Doctors do not perform routine laboratory tests to look for any kidney masses. If you experience any symptoms, you can ask your healthcare provider about your options. There are certain tests or procedures that your doctor may explore to better understand your kidneys. These may involve:

  • Physical exams – The exams, along with exploring family medical history, can present a clearer image for a healthcare provider.
  • A basic or complete metabolic panel – Doctors use these types of panels to help check organ function.
  • A complete blood count – Healthcare providers issue CBCs to analyze the blood for any signs of disease.
  • Urinalysis samples – The test can indicate if any infections, blood, or protein have entered into the urine.
  • Ultrasounds – An ultrasound is one of the most standard ways to get an image of your kidneys.
  • Checking serum creatinine levels – Kidney function tests reveal if your kidneys are properly and effectively ridding your body of waste.
  • CT scans and/or MRIs – These tests allow doctors to diagnose and determine the stage of any present kidney masses.
  • Additional bone scans and chest x-rays – If the doctor finds cancerous kidney masses, you should pursue additional follow-up tests. Bone scans and x-rays will uncover whether the cancer has spread to any other part of the body.
  • A kidney mass biopsy – Biopsies help doctors determine what type of tumor is in your kidney.

Before determining next steps for tests and examinations, consult a medical professional. A doctor will likely recommend additional steps designed to specifically accommodate your medical needs.

Are there any risk factors or groups for kidney cancer?

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A number of factors can lead to developing kidney cancer. Individuals who have a close family history of kidney cancer have a higher risk of inheriting the disease. Additional risk factors can include:

  • Older age – The likelihood of kidney cancer increases with age.
  • Smoking – The risk of developing the disease lessens after you quit.
  • Obesity – Those considered to maintain a healthy weight are less likely to get kidney cancer.
  • High blood pressure – Individuals living with hypertension are at greater risk than their counterparts.
  • Long-term dialysis – Treatment for kidney failure can lead to possibly developing kidney cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes – Individuals with certain inherited syndromes have a greater likelihood of developing kidney cancer. The syndromes include: Von Hippel-Lindau Disease, Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome, tuberous sclerosis complex, hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, and familial renal cancer.

If you fit into these categories, familiarize yourself with the facts. The best course of action is to speak with your healthcare provider about concerns you may have about your long-term health.


What are the types of kidney cancer?

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It remains unclear what causes most kidney cancers. Kidney cancer starts when some of the kidney cells mutate. The abnormal cells can go beyond the kidney. Once they break off to spread (or metastasize) in other parts of the body, it can lead to further complications and health concerns.

The health complications appear differently for everyone. An individual’s treatment will ultimately depend on the type of kidney cancer prevalent in their body. The types of kidney cancer are:

Renal cell carcinoma. RCC is the most common type of kidney cancer. About nine out of 10 cases of kidney cancer fall under the type of renal cell carcinoma. When you visit your doctor, RCC may look different for you than a past family member who had the same type of kidney cancer. RCC typically develops as a single tumor inside of a kidney. However, you may have two or more tumors located in one kidney or have tumors simultaneously in both. Finding out the subtype of RCC will determine your treatment plan.

  • Clear cell renal cell carcinoma – The subtype is the most common form of RCC. About seven out of 10 individuals with RCC have clear cell RCC.
  • Non-clear cell renal cell carcinoma – Under the category are two subtypes: papillary renal cell carcinoma and chromophobe renal cell carcinoma. Papillary RCC is the second most common subtype, with about one in 10 RCC cases. Chromophobe RCC covers about five in 100 cases of RCCs.

Transitional cell carcinoma. The type of kidney cancer does not start in the kidney. It starts in the lining of the renal pelvis. Similar to bladder cancer, cigarette smoking and exposure to some cancer-causing chemicals can cause the cancer. Common signs of TCC include back pain and blood in the urine.

Wilms tumor (nephroblastoma). Wilms tumors are incredibly rare among adults. Most often, the type of cancer occurs in children.

Renal sarcoma. The type of kidney cancer is rare and begins in the connective kidney tissue. It can also begin in the blood vessels. Cases of renal sarcoma account for less than 1% of kidney cancers.

Are there any complications associated with kidney cancer?

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Like all forms of cancer, additional complications can vary depending on several factors. Early discovery and consulting with your doctor can influence the overall outcome of a diagnosis. If left untreated, complications can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of calcium in the blood
  • High red blood cell count
  • Liver and spleen issues
  • Spreading of the cancer

How is kidney cancer treated?

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Your healthcare professional’s main goals when treating kidney cancer will be to remove the cancer and preserve the kidney’s function. Protecting kidney function is increasingly crucial when patients only have one kidney. Some doctors may recommend surgery for kidney cancer. Other times, patients may never need surgery and instead doctors will order a biopsy. The four follow-up treatment options are:

  • Active surveillance – Visit your doctor at regular, predetermined intervals for any tests or imaging examinations. Keeping an eye on your kidneys can help prevent any further progression of the small masses. Your doctor will determine the frequency of your visits based on the size of the tumor, the stage, your age, and your overall health.
  • Ablation – Your healthcare provider will use ablation to destroy a tumor with either extreme heat or cold. Your doctor may also order a biopsy first so a pathologist can thoroughly study the tumor cells and identify any cancer.
  • Partial nephrectomy – If you opt for partial nephrectomy, the doctor will remove the tumor and the diseased area of your kidney.
  • Radical nephrectomy – The doctor will remove the entire kidney if the tumor indicates that it may become cancerous. After speaking with your doctor, they may also remove the entire kidney if the tumor appears large or aggressive.

What are lifestyle changes that could help prevent kidney cancer?

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Making lifestyle changes to improve your health may lessen the risk of developing kidney cancer. The main ways to reduce your kidney cancer risk are:

Stop smoking. Look into support programs and nicotine replacement products. Before doing either option, make sure to speak with a doctor about healthy and effective ways to quit.

Maintain a healthy weight. Talk with your healthcare provider about healthy methods of losing weight. For some people, it may mean reducing the number of calories consumed per day. For others, it can involve increasing physical activity throughout the week.

Monitor and control blood pressure. Make note of your blood pressure during your next doctor’s visit. If the numbers are high, ask your doctor about options moving forward. Your doctor will determine whether you need to go on any medications.

What is the outlook for people living with kidney cancer?

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Anyone who is experiencing symptoms of kidney cancer should see a doctor. When treated in a timely manner, the outcome can significantly change. If the cancer progresses and both kidneys are involved, the outlook will be more serious. Kidney cancer commonly spreads to the lungs.

The outlook ultimately depends upon the progression of the cancer and the treatment’s efficacy. The survival rate is higher if the tumor has not left the kidney. Once it hits other organs and the lymph nodes, the survival rate declines.