What is Kidney Cancer?

Kidney cancer, also known as renal cell cancer, (RCC) is a malignancy that starts in the functioning outer parts of the kidney. This is different than cancer that can occur within the inner lining of the kidney called the renal pelvis. These cancers start on the lining similar to bladder cancer and are referred to as urothelial cancer or transitional cell carcinoma (TCC). RCC is more common than TCC and is diagnosed in a little over 30,000 Americans yearly. Like most cancer, RCC and TCC are treatable and often curable when caught early.

Risk Factors for Kidney Cancer

The More Common Risk Factors Associated With Kidney Cancer Are:

  • Smoking (more with TCC than RCC)
  • Age, sex and race African Americans and male patients over 60 are at higher risk
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Exposure to substances such as asbestos or certain dyes and paints
  • Family history
  • Long term hemodialysis
  • Certain genetic disorders such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease or Tuberous Sclerosis

Kidney Cancer Symptoms

Early TCC may be caught early because of blood in the urine, however RCC kidney cancer usually has no early symptoms but may be found by chance during a CT scan or ultrasound that is performed for other reasons. The symptoms of more advanced kidney cancer are:

  • Mass or lump in your abdominal area
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure — seen in some rare kidney cancers
  • Pain in your side, flank or lower back
  • Swelling in your legs and ankles
  • persistent fatigue and rapid weight loss

Diagnosing Kidney Cancer — How it’s done

Following a thorough history and physical examination, your doctor may order additional imaging and lab tests, including:

  • CT Scan, MRI or ultrasound
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood tests
  • Chest CT or X-ray — to determine if cancer has spread to the lungs
  • X-ray of chest — to determine if cancer has spread to the lungs
  • Bone scan and possible X-ray of bones — to determine if cancer has spread to the bones
  • Needle biopsy of the mass can be helpful; however, the diagnosis usually can be made based on the CT or MRI findings

Different Stages of Kidney Cancer

Kidney Cancer is assigned to one of four stages that describe how advanced and how aggressive the kidney cancer is. Earlier stages have a better prognosis.

  • Stage 1: the tumor is less than or equal to 7 centimeters and confined to the kidney
  • Stage 2: the tumor is larger than 7 centimeters but still confined to the kidney
  • Stage 3: the tumor has spread through the capsule of the kidney or to nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage 4: the tumor has spread more extensively (liver, lungs, bone and/or brain)