Posted September 15, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 6 min read
Kidney cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in your kidney tissue. In time, these cells form a mass called a tumor. Cancer begins when something triggers a change in the cells, and they divide out of control.
Types of Kidney Cancer
Renal cell carcinoma (RCC)
This is the most common form of kidney cancer in adults and accounts for 85% of all kidney cancers.
Renal cell carcinoma usually develops as a single tumor in one kidney, but it can affect both kidneys.
The cancer begins in the cells that line your kidney’s tubules (tiny tubes that return nutrients and fluid back to your blood).
The most common type of RCC is clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC).
Transitional cell cancer
Transitional cell carcinoma accounts for 6% to 7% of all kidney cancers. This cancer usually begins in the area where your ureter connects to the main part of your kidney. This area is called your renal pelvis. Transitional cell carcinoma can also occur in your ureters or bladder.
This is the least common form of kidney cancer, accounting for only 1% of kidney cancer cases. It begins in the connective tissues of your kidneys and, if not treated, can spread to nearby organs and bones.
This is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. It accounts for about 5% of kidney cancers.
Causes of Kidney Cancer
People who smoke are at greater risk for kidney cancer. In addition, the longer a person smokes, the higher the risk.
Obesity is a risk factor for kidney cancer. In general, the more overweight a person is, the higher the risk.
High blood pressure
Also called hypertension, high blood pressure has been linked to an increased risk of kidney cancer. Family history: People who have family members with kidney cancer may have an increased risk of developing cancer themselves.
Women who have been treated with radiation for cancer of their reproductive organs may have a slightly increased risk of developing kidney cancer.
Gene changes (mutations)
Genes contain instructions for a cell’s function. Changes in certain genes can increase the risk of developing kidney cancer.
Long-term dialysis treatment
Dialysis is the process of cleaning your blood by passing it through a special machine. Dialysis is used when a person’s kidneys aren’t functioning properly.
Tuberous sclerosis complex
Tuberous sclerosis is a disease that causes seizures and intellectual disabilities, as well as the formation of tumors in many different organs.
Von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL)
People with this inherited disorder are at greater risk for developing kidney cancer. This disorder causes noncancerous tumors in your blood vessels, typically in your eyes and brain.
Symptoms of Kidney Cancer
Blood in your pee (hematuria).
A lump or mass in your kidney area.
A general sense of not feeling well.
Loss of appetite.
High blood pressure.
Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer
A sample of your urine (pee) is tested to see if it contains blood. Even very small traces of blood, invisible to the naked eye, can be detected in tests of urine samples.
These tests count the number of each of the different kinds of blood cells, as well as look at different electrolytes in your body. A blood test can show if there are too few red blood cells (anemia), or if your kidney function is impaired (by looking at the creatinine).
This is a special X-ray that uses a computer to create a series of images, or slices, of the inside of your body. This test is often done with intravenous contrast (dye). People with impaired kidney function may not be able to receive the dye.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
This is a test that produces images of the inside of your body using a large magnet, radio waves and a computer.
This test uses high-frequency sound waves that are transmitted through body tissues to create images that are displayed on a monitor. This test is helpful in detecting tumors, which have a different density from healthy tissues.
Renal mass biopsy
During this procedure, a thin needle is inserted into the tumor, and a small sample of your tissue is removed (biopsy). A pathologist will look at the tissue under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. Because biopsies for kidney cancer aren’t always completely reliable, your healthcare provider may or may not recommend this test.
Treatment of Kidney Cancer
Surgery is the treatment of choice for most stages of kidney cancer. Several surgical options may be considered, including:
Your surgeon removes the part of your kidney that contains the tumor.
Your surgeon removes your entire kidney and some of the tissue around it. They may also remove some lymph nodes in the area. When one kidney is removed, the remaining kidney is usually able to perform the work of both kidneys.
Sometimes, heat and cold can destroy cancer cells. People who aren’t candidates for surgery may benefit from cryoablation or radiofrequency ablation.
During this procedure, your healthcare provider inserts a needle through your skin and into the kidney tumor. The cancer cells are then frozen with cold gas.
Your healthcare provider inserts a needle through your skin and into the kidney tumor. Next, an electrical current is passed through the cancer cells to destroy them.
Your healthcare provider may recommend radiation therapy if you only have one kidney or if you’re not eligible for surgery. Radiation therapy is most often used for easing kidney cancer symptoms, such as pain.
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted drug therapy blocks certain characteristics that help cancer cells thrive.
For example, these drugs can stop the growth of new blood vessels or proteins that feed cancer.
Targeted drug therapy is often used when surgery isn’t an option.
In some cases, these medications may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
Immunotherapy uses certain medications to boost your own immune system.
In turn, this helps your body recognize and destroy cancer cells more effectively.
Immunotherapy may be given as a standalone treatment or along with surgery.
Chemotherapy isn’t a standard treatment for kidney cancer.
But it can be helpful in some cases usually only after trying immunotherapy and targeted drug therapy.
Chemotherapy medications are taken by mouth or given through a vein (intravenously) and are generally well tolerated.