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Kidney Cancer

Your kidneys, which are located on your back between the ribs and the hips, are your two bean-shaped organs that filter your blood and eliminate waste to form urine. By filtering the blood and eliminating waste, the kidneys are able to balance the blood composition to keep your body functioning.  When the kidney’s normal tissue is taken over and destroyed by an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, a tumor develops. This tumor may be kidney cancer.  Kidney cancer is a tumor that originates in the kidney. Although the cause of kidney cancer is not clear, there is a genetic mutation that occurs in your DNA that tell the cells in your kidney to grow and rapidly divide. What triggers this mutation is unknown, but the cancer has the potential to spread throughout your body. When this happens it is called metastasis. In adults, approximately 85% of cancers that originate in the kidneys are renal cell carcinoma


Rarely do people experience signs or symptoms in the early stages of kidney cancer, but in the later stages, people may experience the following:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Feeling extremely tired


The exact reasons are unclear, but these factors have been associated with kidney cancer development:

  • Smoking. If you quit, the risk decreases.
  • Age. The risk of cancer increases as you age.
  • Of African American Decent
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Obesity
  • Long-term Dialysis to treat chronic kidney failure
  • Hereditary Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma: an inherited or genetic condition that increases the risk of getting multiple types of kidney tumors or cancers. It also increases your risk of developing cancer in both kidneys.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease. Also an inherited disorder where people are more likely to get different kinds of tumors or cysts (sacs of fluid) in different parts of the body, including kidney cancer in some cases. 


Unfortunately, there are no blood or urine tests that detect the presence of kidney cancer. When a tumor is suspected, it is usually found by chance when you are being evaluated for another problem. The following may be performed to further evaluate if cancer is suspected.

  • Blood and urine tests. May provide clues as to what is causing your signs and symptoms.
  • Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT scan). These studies allow the provider to better evaluate the kidney tumor or abnormality and see if cancer is suspected.
  • Kidney Biopsy. When it is not obvious that a tumor looks like kidney cancer on the images taken, it may be recommended that a small tissue sample be taken from the suspicious area of your kidney.  This tends to happen if the tumor is too small or when surgery may be too risky for a person with a lot of medical problems. The sample is taken to the lab to check for cancer cells, but a diagnosis is not always guaranteed.  In certain cases, a biopsy may not be possible due to the tumor’s location.


The approach to treatment will depend on several factors, including the kind of cancer you have, the stage of the kidney cancer (whether it has spread or not), your general health, as well as your preferences for treatment.

  • Surgery
    • Nephrectomy. Removes the affected kidney along with the adjacent lymph nodes and possibly the adrenal gland to stage and possibly cure you of kidney cancer.
    • Partial Nephrectomy. If possible, rather than removing the entire kidney, only the tumor and part of the kidney surrounding it will be removed. This treatment is common for small tumors or cancers, but may be an option for those with only one kidney.
  • When surgery is not possible or if you have small kidney tumors, the following may be options:
    • Cyroablation. Freezes cancer cells through a release of gas by a special needle placed in the kidney tumor under X-ray guidance.
    • Radiofrequency ablation. An electric current produces heat to kill cancer cells. With this method, a special needle is inserted into the kidney tumor under X-ray guidance and an electric current runs through the needle to burn the cancer cells.
  • For advanced or recurrent kidney cancer that may not be curable, treatments may include:
    • Surgery. It may be helpful to remove as much as the cancer possible or remove cancer that has spread to other parts of the body
    • Immunotherapy. Uses drugs that are artificial versions of chemicals made in your body that stimulate your immune system to fight cancer. Drugs in this category include interferon and aldesleukin (Proleukin).
    • Targeted Therapy. Uses drugs to block the abnormal signals in the tumor that cause cancer cells to multiply. Some targeted drugs (axitinib (Inlyta), bevacizumab (Avastin), pazopanib (Votrient), sorafenib (Nexavar), and sunitinib (Sutent)) block the signals that aid in the growth of blood vessels formed to supply nutrients needed for the cancer cells to grow and spread. Other drugs, such as everolimus (Afinitor) or Temsirolimus (Torisel), may help block the signal that allow kidney cancer cells to grow and survive.
    • Radiation Therapy. Uses high powered X-rays or energy beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation may be used to control or minimize the symptoms of cancer that has spread to other parts of your body, such as your lungs, or bones.