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Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer

Kidney cancer occurs when a malignant tumor forms in the tissue of the kidney. The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located on either side of the spine, protected by the lower ribcage. Their main function is to filter blood and remove excess water, salt and waste from the body. Although the body has two kidneys, only part of one kidney is necessary to function.

Types of kidney cancer

Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common type of kidney cancer. The cancerous cells typically develop in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney, called tubules. Over time, these cells may grow into a mass and cause an obstruction. The cancer may form in one or both of the kidneys.

Subtypes of RCC

  • Clear cell RCC accounts for approximately 80 percent of all renal cell carcinomas.
  • Papillary RCC is the second most common type of RCC and accounts for 10-15 percent of kidney cancers.
  • Chromophobe RCC, like clear cell RCC, has tumor cells that appear pale or clear under a microscope.
  • Collecting duct RCC is a rare and aggressive type of RCC, accounting for less than one percent of kidney cancers.
  • Unclassified RCC is another rare type of kidney cancer. These cells cannot be classified based on their appearance under a microscope. Alternately, cancers  that have more than one subtype may be grouped in this category.

Other cancerous kidney tumors

  • Transitional cell carcinoma develops in the region where the kidney and the ureters join. The ureters are tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. The tumor cells may begin to look more like bladder cancer cells than kidney cancer cells when observed under a microscope. This cancer type may also be referred to as urothelial cancer or renal pelvis carcinoma.
  • Renal sarcoma is a rare type of kidney cancer that develops in the connective tissue of the kidney.

Common kidney cancer symptoms

The most common sign of kidney cancer is blood in the urine, known as hematuria. Other possible kidney cancer symptoms may include:

  • Persistent pain in the side of the abdomen or the back, which is not the result of an injury.
  • A mass or lump in the abdomen.
  • Feeling fatigued.
  • Unexplained, sometimes rapid, weight loss.
  • A fever that is not due to an illness.

Overview of kidney cancer risk factors

Some common risk factors for kidney cancer include:


  • Obesity: Excess weight, especially when caused by a high-fat diet, can increase a person’s kidney cancer risks.
  • High blood pressure: People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop kidney cancer.
  • Dialysis: People who receive long-term dialysis, which enables those without functioning kidneys to filter their blood through a machine, are more likely to develop kidney cancer.


  • Smoking tobacco: The use of cigarettes, pipes and cigars can contribute to the likelihood of developing kidney cancer.
  • Occupational exposure: Exposure to asbestos and/or cadmium (a type of metal used in the production of batteries, plastics, and other industrial processes) can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.


  • Family history or inherited genetic syndromes: Kidney cancer risk factors increase for those who have a family history of the disease

Kidney cancer stages

Making an educated treatment decision begins with the stage, or progression, of the disease. The stage of kidney cancer is one of the most important factors in evaluating treatment options.

  • Tumor (T) describes the size of the original tumor.
  • Node (N) indicates whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.
  • Metastasis (M) refers to whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Once the T, N, and M scores have been assigned, an overall cancer stage is assigned


Localized disease – Surgery

Advanced Disease – chemotherapy