Kidney Cancer



Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. These cells go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.

Cancer Cell Growth
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Risk Factors

Kidney cancer is more common in men, and in people over 50 years old. Your chances of kidney cancer are higher for:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Prior hysterectomy



Kidney cancer may cause:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain
  • A lump in the belly
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Signs of anemia such as feeling tired, pale skin, or fast heart rate


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Blood and urine tests may be done to rule out more common issues like UTI. Images of the kidneys may be taken with:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

A growth on the kidney may also be found when taking images for other reasons. Cancer is confirmed with a biopsy. A sample of suspicious tissue is removed and examined in a lab.

The exam and your test results will help find out the stage of cancer you have. Staging guides your treatment. Kidney cancer is staged from 1 to 4. Stage 1 is a very localized cancer. Stage 4 is a spread to other parts of the body.



Cancer treatment is based on the stage and type of cancer and overall health. More than one treatment may be used. Treatment options include:

Cancer Removal

Surgery is done to remove as much cancer as possible. Nearby lymph nodes or other sites with cancer will also be removed. Surgery may be:

  • Partial nephrectomy—removal of part of the kidney to treat smaller tumors
  • Radical nephrectomy—remove entire kidney, adrenal gland, and nearby fatty tissue and lymph nodes

Smaller areas of cancer may be destroyed with ablation. It may be cryoablation or radiofrequency ablation. Probes are passed through the skin to the tumor. Cold or high energy radiowaves are passed to the tumor until it is destroyed. This process may be used in those who cannot tolerate surgery.

Surgery can also be used to debulk tumors that are causing symptoms.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is medicine that blocks tumors from growing and spreading for a time. It may be used after surgery to lower the chance of cancer coming back. It may also be used for cancer that cannot removed with surgery.


This therapy uses medicines to help the immune system fight and kill cancer cells. It may be used for cancer that cannot be removed with surgery.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses beams of radiation to target and kill cancer cells. It is not always used for kidney cancer. Radiation therapy is most often used to shrink tumors that are causing problems like pain or bleeding. External radiation therapy comes from a source outside the body.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It is not very effective against kidney cancer. It may only be used if other treatments are not working as they should.


To help lower your chances of cancer:

  • If you smoke, your doctor will help you find ways to quit .
  • Keep a healthy weight. If you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor.
  • Eat a well-balanced, healthful diet.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.