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Kidney Cancer

What Is Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to multiply uncontrollably and form a mass, or tumor. There are several types of kidney cancer, including:

  • Renal cell cancer, the most common type of kidney cancer, begins in the renal tubules, the tiny tubes that collect urine as it filters through the kidney.

  • Transitional cell cancer, which arises in the ureters (tubes that run from the kidney to the bladder) or renal pelvis (funnel-shaped structure at the top of the ureter). 

  • Advanced kidney disease, being on long-term dialysis, having previous kidney surgery or taking immunosuppressant medications following kidney transplant.

  • Environmental factors, such as smoking, obesity or exposure to toxic chemicals.

  • Genetic conditions, including von Hippel-Lindau disease, hereditary leiomyomatosis and renal cell cancer, hereditary papillary renal carcinoma, and Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome.

  • Long-term use of certain pain medications, including over-the-counter and prescription pain killers 

Symptoms

In the early stages, kidney cancer often does not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Changes in urine color — Blood in the urine can make it appear pink, red or brown.

  • Fatigue — Persistent tiredness or weakness may be present. 

  • Fever — High, recurrent fever may develop, and the fever isn’t caused by any known illness.

  • Lump or mass — Lumps may develop on the abdomen, side or lower back.

  • Pain — Unexplained back or flank pain may be experienced.

  • Unexplained weight loss — Weight loss can occur for no known reason and may be accompanied by loss of appetite.

Treatment Options

Treatment options depend on the type and stage of kidney cancer, and may include:

  • Surgery — The primary treatment for kidney cancer is surgery, and the tumor or all or part of the diseased organ is removed.

  • Precision therapies — Targeted therapy drugs pinpoint weaknesses in cancer cells, while biologics or immunotherapy stimulate the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

  • Chemotherapy — Oral or infused anti-cancer drugs are usually reserved for kidney cancers that have not responded to other treatments.

  • Radiation therapy — Highly focused X-ray energy may be used to shrink tumors when surgery is not an option.

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