Kidney Cancer
Kidney Cancer

Kidney Cancer

The urinary tract with a close up of a normal kidney and a kidney with cancer.

Kidney cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in one or both kidneys. The kidneys filter waste from your blood and produce urine. Kidney cancer may spread to other parts of your body. This type of cancer may also be called renal cell carcinoma.

What are the causes?

The cause of this condition is not always known. In some cases, abnormal changes to genes (genetic mutations) can cause cells to form cancer.

What increases the risk?

You may be more likely to develop kidney cancer if you:
  • Are over age 60. The risk increases with age.
  • Have a family history of kidney cancer.
  • Are of African-American, Native American, or Native Alaskan descent.
  • Smoke.
  • Are male.
  • Are obese.
  • Have high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Have advanced kidney disease, especially if you need long-term dialysis.
  • Have certain conditions that are passed from parent to child (inherited), such as von Hippel-Lindau disease, tuberous sclerosis, or hereditary papillary renal carcinoma.
  • Have been exposed to certain chemicals.

What are the signs or symptoms?

In the early stages, kidney cancer does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include:
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Pain in the upper back or abdomen, just below the rib cage. You may feel pain on one or both sides of the body.
  • Fatigue.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Fever.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:
  • Your symptoms and medical history.
  • A physical exam.
  • Blood and urine tests.
  • X-rays.
  • Imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans.
  • Having dye injected into your blood through an IV, and then having X-rays taken of:
    • Your kidneys and the rest of the organs involved in making and storing urine (intravenous pyelogram).
    • Your blood vessels (angiogram).
  • Removal and testing of a kidney tissue sample (biopsy).

Your cancer will be assessed (staged), based on how severe it is and how much it has spread.

How is this treated?

Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Treatment may include one or more of the following:
  • Surgery. This may include surgery to remove:
    • Just the tumor (nephron-sparing surgery).
    • The entire kidney (nephrectomy).
    • The kidney, some of the surrounding healthy tissue, nearby lymph nodes, and the adrenal gland in certain cases (radical nephrectomy).
  • Medicines that kill cancer cells (chemotherapy).
  • High-energy rays that kill cancer cells (radiation therapy).
  • Targeted therapy. This targets specific parts of cancer cells and the area around them to block the growth and the spread of the cancer. Targeted therapy can help to limit the damage to healthy cells.
  • Medicines that help your body's disease-fighting system (immune system) fight cancer cells (immunotherapy).
  • Freezing cancer cells using gas or liquid that is delivered through a needle (cryoablation).
  • Destroying cancer cells using high-energy radio waves that are delivered through a needle-like probe (radiofrequency ablation).
  • A procedure to block the artery that supplies blood to the tumor, which kills the cancer cells (embolization).

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Some of your treatments might affect your appetite and your ability to chew and swallow. If you are having problems eating, or if you do not have an appetite, meet with a diet and nutrition specialist (dietitian).
  • If you have side effects that affect eating, it may help to:
    • Eat smaller meals and snacks often.
    • Drink high-nutrition and high-calorie shakes or supplements.
    • Eat bland and soft foods that are easy to eat.
    • Not eat foods that are hot, spicy, or hard to swallow.


  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.

General instructions

A prescription pill bottle with an example of a pill.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider. This includes vitamins, supplements, and herbal products.
  • Consider joining a support group to help you cope with the stress of having kidney cancer.
  • Work with your health care provider to manage any side effects of treatment.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Where to find more information

Contact a health care provider if you:

  • Notice that you bruise or bleed easily.
  • Are losing weight without trying.
  • Have new or increased fatigue or weakness.

Get help right away if you have:

  • Blood in your urine.
  • A sudden increase in pain.
  • A fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain.
  • Yellow skin or whites of your eyes (jaundice).


  • Kidney cancer is an abnormal growth of cells (tumor) in one or both kidneys. Tumors may spread to other parts of your body.
  • In the early stages, kidney cancer does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, symptoms may include blood in the urine, pain in the upper back or abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and fever.
  • Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer. It may include surgery to remove the tumor, procedures and medicines to kill the cancer cells, or medicines to help your body fight cancer cells.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.