Kidney cancer starts when abnormal cells grow out of control in one or both kidneys. Another name for kidney cancer is renal cancer. "Renal" means having to do with the kidney. Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer.
What causes kidney cancer?
Experts aren't sure what causes kidney cancer. But there are certain things that make you more likely to get it. Your risk is higher if you:
- Are very overweight (obese).
- Have high blood pressure.
- Have certain inherited conditions, such as von Hippel-Lindau disease.
What are the symptoms of kidney cancer?
Kidney cancer doesn't usually cause symptoms at first. As it grows, kidney cancer may cause one or more of these symptoms:
- Blood in the urine. Blood can often be seen with the naked eye. But sometimes it's there in just microscopic amounts, so the urine has to be tested to find the blood cells.
- A lump that can be felt in the lower back or belly.
- Pain in the side or the back.
- Unexpected weight loss.
- A fever that keeps coming back.
- Extreme tiredness.
Kidney cancer that has spread to other parts of the body will cause different symptoms, depending on where it has spread. For example, cancer that spreads to the lungs may cause coughing and shortness of breath. Cancer that spreads to the bones may cause bone pain.
How is kidney cancer diagnosed?
To see if you may have kidney cancer, your doctor may do a physical exam. Then your doctor may order one or more tests to look for evidence of cancer. Tests include:
- A urine test.
- Blood tests, such as a complete blood count and a creatinine test.
- Tests that show pictures of your kidneys (imaging tests), such as:
- A CT scan. Dye may be injected through a catheter in your vein to make the picture clearer.
- An ultrasound.
- An MRI. Dye may be injected in your vein to make the picture clearer.
Many cases of early kidney cancer are found during imaging tests that were looking for some other problem.
If a biopsy is needed to confirm the diagnosis, a small sample of the kidney may be removed to check the cells under a microscope.
How is kidney cancer treated?
Treatment for kidney cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as your overall health. Treatment options may include:
This is the main treatment. The doctor may remove only the part of the kidney with the tumor or the whole kidney.
This uses heat or cold to destroy tumors. It may be done when tumors are very small or surgery isn't a good choice.
Active surveillance may be an option for some people with very small tumors.
If the cancer has spread beyond the kidneys, treatment may also include:
This uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.
These medicines attack only cancer cells, not normal cells. They help keep cancer from growing or spreading.
This treatment helps your immune system fight cancer.
Your doctor will talk with you about your options and then make a treatment plan.