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 a type of cancer in which an abnormal growth of cells (tumor) forms in one or both kidneys. The kidneys filter waste from your blood and make 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 known.

What increases the risk?

You may be more likely to develop kidney cancer if:
  • You are over age 60.
  • You have certain conditions that are passed from parent to child (inherited). These include von Hippel-Lindau disease, tuberous sclerosis, and hereditary papillary renal carcinoma.
  • You smoke or have been exposed to certain chemicals.
  • You have advanced kidney disease, especially if you need to use a machine to clean your blood (dialysis).
  • You are obese.
  • You have high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • You are male.

What are the signs or symptoms?

At first, kidney cancer may not cause any 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 your body.
  • Tiredness (fatigue).
  • Weight loss that cannot be explained.
  • Fever.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:
  • Your symptoms.
  • Your medical history.
  • A physical exam.

You may also have tests, such as:
  • Blood and urine tests.
  • X-rays.
  • Imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans.
  • Angiogram. This is when dye is injected into your blood to show your blood vessels.
  • Intravenous pyelogram. This is when dye is injected into your blood to show your kidneys and the other organs that help with making and storing urine.
  • Biopsy. This is when a piece of tissue is removed from your kidney and looked at under a microscope.

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:
  • Surgery to remove:
    • Just the tumor (nephron-sparing surgery).
    • The entire kidney (nephrectomy).
    • The kidney, some of the healthy tissue around it, nearby lymph nodes, and sometimes the adrenal gland (radical nephrectomy).
  • Medicines to:
    • Kill cancer cells (chemotherapy).
    • Help your body's disease-fighting system (immune system) fight cancer cells. This is known as immunotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy. This uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy to only attack genes and proteins that allow a tumor to grow. This type of therapy tries to limit damage to your healthy cells.
  • Cryoablation. This uses gas or liquid to freeze cancer cells. It is sent through a needle.
  • Radiofrequency ablation. This uses high-energy radio waves to destroy cancer cells. It is sent through a needle-like probe.
  • Embolization. This is a procedure to block the artery that supplies blood to the tumor.

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Some of your treatments may affect your appetite and your ability to chew and swallow. If you have problems eating, or if you do not have an appetite, meet with an expert in diet and nutrition (dietitian).
  • If you have side effects that affect eating, it may help to:
    • Eat smaller meals more often.
    • Eat bland or soft foods.
    • Avoid foods that are hot, spicy, or hard to swallow.
    • Drink shakes or supplements that are high in nutrition and calories.
  • Do not drink alcohol.


  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco. These products include cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping devices, such as e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need 6–8 hours of sleep each night. During treatment, you may need more sleep.

General instructions

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Consider joining a support group. This can 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. Your health care provider will want to make sure your treatment is working.

Where to find more information

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You bruise or bleed easily.
  • You lose weight without trying.
  • You have new or worse fatigue or weakness.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your pain suddenly increases.
  • You have more blood in your urine.
  • Your skin or the white parts of your eyes turn yellow (jaundice).

Get help right away if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You are short of breath.
  • You have irregular heartbeats (palpitations).

These symptoms may be an emergency. Get help right away. Call 911.
  • Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away.
  • Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

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.