Kidney Cancer



Kidney cancer is cancer that starts in the kidneys. The kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs. They are found just above the waist, on each side of the spine. The kidneys filter blood and make urine.

The main types are:

  • Wilms tumor —happens mainly in children
  • Renal cell carcinoma—happens in adults

There are different types of renal cell carcinoma depending on where they start in the kidney.


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
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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 your symptoms and health history. Kidney cancer is usually found during a routine imaging test. Further testing may include:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Imaging tests such as:
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
  • Biopsy —tissue samples are looked at under a microscope (not always needed)

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 1-4. Stage 1 is a very localized cancer. Stage 4 is a spread to other parts of the body.



Cancer treatment varies depending on the stage and type of cancer. Some methods may be combined. These include:


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

  • Partial—removal of the cancerous part of the kidney to treat smaller tumors that have not spread
  • Radical—removal of the entire kidney, adrenal gland, and nearby fatty tissue and lymph nodes

Ablation is the use of heat or cold is to destroy cancer cells. Surgery can also be used to ease problems if cancer has spread.

Radiation Therapy

This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors after surgery. External radiation therapy is aimed at a tumor from a source outside the body.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.


Medicines are used to help the immune system fight and kill cancer cells.

Targeted Therapy

These medicines block tumors from growing and spreading. It may be used with other methods.


To help lower your chances of kidney 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.

a (Renal Cell Carcinoma)


American Cancer Society 

Kidney Cancer Association 


Canadian Cancer Society 

The Kidney Foundation of Canada 


General information about renal cell cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed January 29, 2021.

Kidney cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed January 29, 2021.

Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed January 29, 2021.

10/1/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Bhaskaran K, Douglas I, Forbes H, et al. Body-mass index and risk of 22 specific cancers: a population-based cohort study of 5.24 million UK adults. Lancet. 2014;384(9945):755-765.