Kidney Cancer: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risks, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prognosis

Human kidney Cancer


The kidneys play an important role in the body. They are two bean-shaped organs that are vital in maintaining your general health and well-being. The bloodstream passes through the kidneys to clean out toxins and form urine from excess fluid and unwanted chemicals in the body. When the kidneys malfunction, the toxins are not properly discarded, leading to blood poisoning, which is potentially-fatal.

The kidneys are not spared from having cancer. Kidney cancer, also called renal cancer, is a disease in the kidneys wherein the cells become malignant or cancerous. They grow uncontrollably and eventually form a tumor.

In adults, the most common type is renal cell carcinoma. On the other hand, in children, they are more likely to develop a type of kidney cancer called Wilm’s tumor.

In the United States, there are about 63,990 new cases of kidney cancer diagnosed every year, and out of this number, 14,000 people die from kidney cancer every year. In 2017, about 40,610 men and 23,389 women are expected to be diagnosed with kidney cancer in the country.

Across the globe, North America has the highest number of kidney cancer cases. However, in developing countries, the incidence of this type of cancer is continuously increasing over the last 30 years. Some researchers have linked the steady increase to high obesity rates or maybe because of improved diagnosis and detection.

Kidney cancer is one of the ten most common cancers across the globe. It affects about one in every 63 people over a lifetime, and it emerges more frequently among people between the ages of 50 and 80 years old.

2Types of Kidney or Renal Cancer

Renal cell carcinoma accounts for 30 percent of all cases in the United States every year. The other types of kidney cancer include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Urothelial cell carcinoma of the renal pelvis
  • Juxtaglomerular cell tumor
  • Renal oncocytoma
  • Bellini duct carcinoma
  • Angiomyolipoma
  • Mesoblastic nephroma
  • Clear-cell sarcoma of the kidneys
  • Wilm’s tumor in children below five years old
  • Mixed epithelial stromal tumor


Kidney cancer may mimic the signs and symptoms of the urinary diseases. In the early stages, the person might be asymptomatic, or there are no symptoms present. However, the signs and symptoms of kidney cancer may manifest in the later states, which includes:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lump in the abdomen
  • A mass or lump at the back, near the kidneys or in the flank
  • Continuous pain in the side, also near the kidneys
  • Constant fever
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • If the symptoms become persistent, you can make an appointment with your doctor.


There is no definite cause of kidney cancer. Just like any other type of cancer, many scientists believe that kidney cancer starts from a change in the structure of DNA in cells. A genetic mutation leads to the proliferation or uncontrolled growth of the cells, forming a tumor. When this condition is left untreated, cancer may grow and spread to the other parts of the body including the lymphatic system and other vital organs.

5Risk Factors

Doctors are still studying the cause of kidney cancer, but the disease process is still unclear. All they know is that the cells in the kidneys start to mutate and divide rapidly. However, there are risk factors that increase the risk of a person with kidney cancer.

Smoking Cigarettes

Many doctors are linking smoking tobacco or cigarettes to the increased risk of developing kidney cancer. In fact, some studies have shown that the risk for kidney cancer is twice that of nonsmokers.


The risk of developing kidney cancer increases when you reach the age of 60 years old.

Being Male

Men are about twice likely to have kidney cancer than women. For every two women who get this type of cancer, three men will have it too.


Having extra weight or being obese increases the risk of developing kidney cancer. Obesity may cause changes to the hormones that may influence the development of kidney cancer.


Hypertension or high blood pressure may also increase the likelihood of developing kidney cancer. On the other hand, antihypertensive drugs are also risk factors for this cancer.

Long-term Medications

 Taking prescription medications for a long time may increase your risk of kidney cancer.

Other Kidney Diseases

The people with advanced kidney disease or those who underwent long-term dialysis may increase the risk of kidney cancer.

Genetic Disorders

Having genetic conditions such as von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) may increase the risk of kidney cancer.

Family History of Kidney Cancer

 The risk may also increase especially if you have immediate family members who have the disease like siblings, parents or children.

Exposure to Some Chemicals

Exposure to chemicals like asbestos, benzene, organic solvents, and herbicides may increase your risk of kidney cancer.


To diagnose kidney cancer, the doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination, an interview of the medical history of the patient and recommend certain tests. For the physical examination, the doctor will palpate your abdomen and side for lumps, check for fever, high blood pressure and other important assessment procedures.

The doctor might request tests including:

Urine Test

 A urine test will show how your kidneys work if there is blood in the urine and if there are leaking substances that aren’t supposed to be there.

Blood Test

 A blood test is requested to show the overall health of the patient and if anemia is present.

Imaging Tests

The imaging tests will allow the doctor to visualize the tumor on the kidney or look for any abnormality with the anatomy of the kidneys. Usually, the imaging tests used are ultrasound, computed tomography (CT-scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP)

This test involves taking X-ray images of the kidneys after the doctor has injected a dye that travels through the urinary tract. The dye will highlight the tumor for a better image on the X-ray film.


A biopsy is the removal of a sample kidney tissue for examination under a microscope. The cells and tissues will be examined for signs of cancer.

Staging Of Kidney Cancer

After the doctor identifies if there is a cancer in your kidneys, he will provide a stage for the disease. The prognosis of the disease depends on your general health. The higher the stage, the more severe and advanced cancer.

Stage I – In this stage, the tumor is about 7 centimeters or smaller in diameter, and it’s confined in the kidneys.

Stage II – The tumor is larger than 7 centimeters but still confined in the kidneys.

Stage III – In this stage, the tumor has spread to surrounding tissues and at least one nearby lymph node. The tumor may also affect the kidney’s main blood vessel.

Stage IV – This is the last stage and most advanced stage of kidney cancer. Cancer has spread beyond the fatty layer of the tissue surrounding the kidneys. It has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and other organs like the lungs, bowel, and pancreas,


The treatment of kidney cancer may depend on various factors such as the general health of the patient, the stage of cancer, the type of cancer and the preference of the patient and his or her family.


There are many types of surgeries to choose from. Radical nephrectomy is the surgery that removes the kidney and surrounding tissue. Simple nephrectomy removes just the kidneys, and partial nephrectomy removes cancer in the kidneys and just some tissues around it. Surgery is one important step to halt the spread of cancer cells, but in some cases, it is not recommended.


When surgery isn’t possible, it is important to explore other options such as cryoablation or the freezing of cancer cells. In this procedure, a special needle is inserted through the skin and into the tumor in the kidneys. The gas inside the needle will freeze the cancer cells, preventing them from spreading further.

Radiofrequency Ablation

This procedure is the exact opposite of cryoablation. The cancer cells are burned or heated through an electrical current.


This procedure involves the use of chemotherapy drugs that kill the cancer cells and prevent them from spreading further.

Radiation Therapy

This procedure uses a high-powered energy beam to kill the tumor and cancer cells.


The prognosis of the disease depends on the stage of cancer or the extent at which it has spread to the other parts of the body. If the cancer cells are confined in the kidneys, the prognosis is better. However, if the cancer cells have spread to the other vital organs like the lungs, the prognosis or outlook is poor.


There are measures to reduce the risk of developing kidney cancer which includes:

  • Not smoking tobacco or cigarette
  • Avoid drinking alcohol in excessive amounts
  • Avoiding toxic chemicals and check your house for asbestos, especially if it was built decades ago
  • Eating nutritious foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if overweight or obese
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Maintaining a healthy blood pressure