What is kidney cancer?

The kidneys are two special organs in the body that carry out important tasks, such as making urine to eliminate waste from the body, controlling blood pressure, and stimulating the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. They are located just behind the liver and stomach. Kidney cancer is a harmful disease that begins when normal processes of cell division and growth are disrupted, giving way to abnormal, uncontrollable growth in the kidney(s). The cells grow and accumulate into a mass, or tumor. These tumors in the kidney(s) can be cancerous (malignant) and as the disease advances, cancer may spread (metastasize) to other organs in the body. Types of kidney cancers include: 
  • Renal cell carcinoma (RCC) is the most common form of kidney cancer in adults. Renal cell carcinoma begins in the cells that line the small tubes that are part of the nephrons within the kidneys. 
  • Transitional cell carcinoma usually begins in the area where the ureter connects to the main part of the kidney. Transitional cell carcinoma also can occur in the ureters or bladder
  • Renal sarcoma begins in the connective tissues of the kidneys.
  • Wilms' tumor is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. 
Stages of kidney cancer are:
  • Stage I: tumor is 7 cm in diameter or smaller and is confined in the kidney. The cancer has not metastasized to lymph nodes or other tissue. 
  • Stage II: tumor is larger than 7 cm in diameter but is still only confined in the kidney. It has not metastasized to lymph nodes or other tissue. 
  • Stage III: tumor has metastasized beyond the kidney to major blood vessels, into the tissue surrounding the kidney, or to nearby lymph nodes. 
  • Stage IV: tumor has metastasized outside of the kidney to the adrenal gland, distant lymph nodes, or to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver or lungs.
Risk factors
  • Older age
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history of kidney cancer
  • Race. African Americans have a higher incidence rate and lower survival rate for kidney cancer than other racial/ethnic groups (White, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander).
  • Gender. Men are twice as more likely to develop kidney cancer than women.
  • Past radiation treatments can cause cancers to recur.
  • Hypertension. Patients who have high blood pressure have a higher risk for kidney cancer.
  • Treatment for kidney failure. Patients with advanced kidney disease who receive long-term dialysis to treat chronic kidney failure may develop kidney cancer.
  • Gene mutations in certain genes can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer. 
  • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease is caused by a gene mutation that increases the chances of renal cell cancer. 
  • Certain inherited syndromes may increase the risk of kidney cancer in patients, including those who have Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and familial papillary renal cell carcinoma.
  • Renal mass biopsy: removal of kidney tissue sample for study under a microscope.
  • Blood and urine tests may reveal clues about your overall health, such as kidney and liver abnormalities. 
  • Ultrasound (sonography) captures echoes of the internal soft tissue structures of the body and produces videos or images of them. 
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan is a special type of X-ray that takes detailed images of organs.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces very clear images of the human body using a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer.
  • Renal angiography: dye injected into the blood vessels of the kidney to see if blood is flowing properly.
Treatment decisions are based on the type and stage of kidney cancer a patient has, and are aimed at decreasing signs and symptoms in order to improve length and quality of life. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these.
  • Kidney cancer represents about 3.7% of all cancers in the United States. 
  • Each year, more than 62,000 Americans are diagnosed with kidney cancer.
  • More than 9,000 men and 4,000 women die from the disease each year in the U.S.
  • Renal cell carcinoma accounts for 85% of all kidney cancers in adults. 
about kidney cancer

  • "Kidney Cancer." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 30 June 2017.
  • "Kidney Cancer Symptoms & Treatment | Renal Cell Carcinoma." Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, 9 Dec. 2016. Web. 30 June 2017.
  • "Kidney Cancer." Kidney Cancer | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Health System, n.d. Web. 30 June 2017.
  • "Kidney Cancer." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 07 June 2017. Web. 30 June 2017.



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