Kidney Cancer

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Kidney cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the kidneys. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs. They are located just above the waist, on each side of the spine. Their main function is to filter the blood and produce urine.

There are two main types of kidney cancer: Wilms' tumor, which occurs mainly in children, and renal cell carcinoma in adults. The cells that line the ureter may also give rise to transitional cell cancer, and the connective tissues of the kidney may produce sarcomas, which are rare.


Factors that increase your risk for kidney cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Family history of certain hereditary forms of kidney cancer
  • Age: 50 years or older
  • Sex: male
  • Certain occupational exposures such as asbestos and aniline
  • Tanning products
  • Exposure to some toxins, such as astrolachia, which is an herb that is common in some Chinese herbal preparations
  • Balkan nephritis
  • Chronic renal stones
  • Phenacetin abuse
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Dialysis treatment
  • Von Hippel Lindau syndrome


Symptoms may include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain or new pain elsewhere
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Unplanned, significant weight loss
  • Fever
  • Swelling of ankles, legs, and/or abdomen


Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Biopsy

Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:

  • Bone scan
  • Chest x-rays
  • IV pyelogram
  • Renal angiography
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Renal ultrasound
  • Laparoscopy
  • Cystoscopy


Options include:

  • Surgery
    • Radical nephrectomy
    • Partial nephrectomy
    • Removal of metastases
  • Radiation Therapy (or Radiotherapy)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Medication
    • Everolimus
    • Pazopanib


Measures to prevent kidney cancer are limited:

  • Avoid using tobacco products.
  • Avoid occupational exposures.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.