Kidney Cancer

It is estimated that more than 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year. Of these case, less than one-third prove fatal.

In adults, the most common type of kidney cancer is renal cell carcinoma, which forms in the cells that line the small tubes in the kidneys responsible for filtering blood and removing waste products. There is also renal pelvis carcinoma, which forms in the center of the kidney where urine collects. Children under the age of 5 are more likely to develop a Wilms tumor, which starts in the kidney and may spread to the lungs, liver, or nearby lymph nodes.

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer 

The majority of kidney cancers are renal cell carcinomas, and the risk factors are numerous. Those at highest risk are men, 60 years of age or older, who smoke, are obese, have high blood pressure, have had long-term treatment for kidney failure and/or have Von Hippel-Lindau disease, an inherited disorder. External factors such as exposure to asbestos, cadmium and trichloroethylene may also increase the incidence of kidney cancer.

Risk factors for transitional cell carcinoma include smoking, exposure to certain chemicals and the medication phenacetin, which was once used in prescription and over-the-counter pain relievers. It was removed from the market in the United States in the early 1980s. 

Kidney Cancer Symptoms 

There are rarely symptoms in the early stages of kidney cancer. In later stages the symptoms may include blood in the urine, back pain just below the ribs that doesn’t go away, unexplainable weight loss, fatigue and intermittent fever.

Kidney Cancer Diagnosis and Prognosis

Many kidney cancers are detected during procedures for other diseases or conditions. If your urologist suspects a tumor or if you’re at high risk for kidney cancer, it can be diagnosed with blood and urine tests, imaging techniques (such as an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI) or, in select cases, a biopsy.

The incidence and mortality rate of kidney cancer has increased steadily for the past few decades, for unclear reasons.

Learn about treatments for kidney cancer