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Kidney Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

  • Synopsis: Information on benign and malignant kidney cancer tumors plus related articles.

Definition: Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is cancer that originates in the kidneys. Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs, each about the size of your fist. They're located behind your abdominal organs, with one kidney on each side of your spine. The two most common types of kidney cancer are renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) of the renal pelvis. These names reflect the type of cell from which the cancer developed.

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The Kidney organs are responsible for elimination of waste material from the blood through the urine and production of hormones, which regulate blood pressure and control red blood cell production.

Just above the Kidneys are the Adrenal glands, and they produce hormones that are essential and sustain life. These hormones regulate blood pressure, stress responses and sugar levels in the blood as well as Epinephrine, something which controls the pulse rate and blood pressure.

The body can function well enough with one Kidney and one adrenal gland if they are healthy.

One healthy Kidney and one healthy Adrenal gland allows for the removal of one entire Kidney and Adrenal gland if necessary to remove a cancer located in the kidney area. If a patient has poor kidney function prior to development of Kidney cancer it might not be possible to remove one kidney and still have normal function.

The majority of people have two Kidneys, which produce urine and drain through narrow tubes called Ureters into the bladder.

In the human body, the Kidneys are located toward the back of the flank, with one Kidney on either side.

The Kidney is held inside of the, 'Gerota's Fascia,' a kind of fibrous sheath.

Inside of the Gerota's Fascia is a layer of fat that surrounds the Kidney. The layer of fat is a thin and covers the outer surface of the Kidney, somewhat like the outer layer of an apple. There is a primary vein that drains the kidney, called a, 'renal vein,' and it merges with the vein that takes blood to the heart, called the, 'Vena Cava.' The word, 'renal,' means in regards to the Kidney. An Adrenal gland is located above each Kidney within Gerota's Fascia.

There are several types of tumors, both benign and malignant, that may occur in the Kidney.

The words, 'mass,' 'lesion,' and, 'tumor,' are many times used interchangeably. Tumors may be, 'Benign,' meaning that the tumor is not cancerous, or, 'Malignant,' meaning that it is cancerous.

Cysts are the most common type of Kidney tumor, and are fluid-filled. Simple Cysts are both benign and usually do not require follow up treatment; they have a typical appearance on imaging studies. Complex Cysts, on the other hand, might be cancerous; they also do not have a typical benign appearance on imaging studies. If a Complex Cyst is found, treatment is determined on an individual basis.

One other form of Kidney tumor is a solid Kidney Tumor, named because it is not fluid-filled. A Solid Kidney Tumor may or may not be benign; they are usually malignant. Over ninety-percent of all Solid Kidney Tumors are malignant.

Approximately three percent of all forms of cancer in America are Kidney cancers, and account for nearly twelve thousand deaths every year.

Six-thousand six hundred British citizens are diagnosed with Kidney cancer every year, and three-thousand six hundred people in Britain die from Kidney cancer annually.

Many people in Britain believe the number of Kidney cancer deaths is even higher, and suspect the number of deaths from Kidney cancer reported is incorrect.

Slightly more men than women find themselves battling Kidney cancer, and are usually diagnosed with it between the ages of fifty and seventy years of age; although it can happen at any age. For adults the most common form of Kidney Cancer is, 'Renal Cell Carcinoma,' which is also know as, 'Renal Adenocarcinoma,' or, 'Hypernephroma.'

A Kidney imaging study is one of the first things a doctor usually orders when a Kidney Tumor is suspected, and takes the form of a CT Scan, an MRI, or an Ultrasound. Sometimes a doctor will order a combination of these imaging tests so they may obtain a complete evaluation of the tumor. If the doctor suspects that a tumor is cancerous, they will evaluate the patient to find out if the cancer has spread beyond the kidney. A biopsy may be performed in the case of Renal Cell Carcinoma.

Doctors discourage general biopsies of kidney cancer for many reasons, to include the potential for false negative readings, the vascularity of the tissue, as well as the fact that if it is cancerous it can, in rare cases, spread along the exit path of the needle used to obtain the biopsy.

When a biopsy is performed a doctor removes a sample of the tissue so they may examine it underneath a microscope. When examined underneath a microscope there are two distinct cell types that are visible. These cell types include either Clear Cell or Granular Cell, or, 'Sarcomatoid,' cells. Cancer cells are a mixture of both forms of cells. The kinds of cells usually do not influence the outcome following treatment, but in some studies certain medication results in improved outcomes for patients who have Clear Cell Carcinoma.

Kidney Cancer Awareness

Orange awareness ribbonThe orange colored ribbon signifies awareness of kidney cancer, and March is kidney cancer awareness month.

Quick Facts: Signs & Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

The most common signs and symptoms of kidney cancer are a mass in the abdomen and/or blood in the urine (or hematuria). Other symptoms may include tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, a high temperature and heavy sweating, and persistent pain in the abdomen. However, many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, and there may also be no signs or symptoms in a person with kidney cancer, especially in the early stages of the disease.


Treatment for kidney cancer depends on the type and stage of the disease. Surgery is typically the mainstay of treatment and it usually doesn't involve chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as kidney cancers often do not respond to these treatments.

Risk of Developing Kidney Failure in Your Lifetime - American Society of Nephrology - (2012-08-18)

Statistics: Kidney Cancer

Kidney cancer is the seventh most common cancer and the tenth most common cause of cancer death for men, and it is the tenth most common cause of cancer for women. Most people with kidney cancer are older. The average age of people when they are diagnosed is 64. Kidney cancer is very uncommon in people younger than age 45.

  • The American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for kidney cancer in the United States are for 2015:
  • It is estimated that 14,080 deaths (9,070 men and 5,010 women) from this disease will occur this year.
  • Prevalence of this cancer: In 2011, there were an estimated 358,603 people living with kidney and renal pelvis cancer in the United States.
  • This year, an estimated 61,560 adults (38,270 men and 23,290 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with kidney cancer and renal pelvic cancer.
  • Renal cell cancer incidence rates are high in Europe and North America and low in Asia and South America. In contrast, there is generally less geographic variation for the rarer renal pelvis cancers.
  • Lifetime Risk of Developing Cancer: Approximately 1.6 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with kidney and renal pelvis cancer at some point during their lifetime, based on 2009-2011 data.
  • In the United States, renal cell cancer incidence rates increased while renal pelvis cancer rates decreased over time. Much of the increases in renal cell cancer are due to diagnosis of early stage tumors, suggesting that heightened surveillance may play a role.
  • Number of New Cases and Deaths per 100,000: The number of new cases of kidney and renal pelvis cancer was 15.5 per 100,000 men and women per year. The number of deaths was 4.0 per 100,000 men and women per year. These rates are age-adjusted and based on 2007-2011 cases and deaths.

These numbers include all types of kidney and renal pelvis cancers.

Latest Kidney Cancer Publications

  1. Renal Failure: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
    Information regarding the basics of renal failure, a condition when the kidneys lose the ability to filter waste products from the blood.
  2. Risk of Developing Kidney Failure in Your Lifetime
    Study reveals how likely middle aged adults are to develop kidney failure during their lifetime.

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