Renal Cancer

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At a Glance

  • Males are more likely than females to be diagnosed with kidney cancer.
  • Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, long-term dialysis, workplace exposure to asbestos or cadmium, working near coke ovens in iron/steel industry, and (rare) Von Hippel-Lindau.
  • Symptoms include blood in the urine, pain in the side without relief, lump or mass in abdomen, weight loss, fever, excessive fatigue.
  • Many treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, biologic therapy, and arterial embolization.
Cancer that forms in tissues of the kidneys is called renal or kidney cancer. The kidneys are a pair of organs on either side of the spine in the lower abdomen. The kidneys are part of the urinary tract. They make urine by removing wastes and extra water from the blood. Urine collects in a hollow space (renal pelvis) in the middle of each kidney. It passes from the renal pelvis into the bladder through a tube called ureter. Urine leaves the body through another tube, the urethra. The kidneys also make substances that help control blood pressure and the production of red blood cells. It is estimated that in 2010, in the United States, 58,240 new cases would be diagnosed, whereas 13,040 people will die from it.  

Types of Renal Cancer

Several types of cancer can start in the kidney. Some of these are:
  • Renal cell cancer or renal adenocarcinoma
  • Transitional cell carcinoma
  • Wilm’s tumor

Risk Factors

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop kidney cancer. A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease. Studies have found the following risk factors for kidney cancer:
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor. Cigarette smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop kidney cancer. Cigar smoking also may increase the risk of this disease.
  • Obesity: People who are obese have an increased risk of kidney cancer.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure increases the risk of kidney cancer.
  • Long-term dialysis: Dialysis is a treatment for people whose kidneys do not work well. It removes wastes from the blood. Being on dialysis for many years is a risk factor for kidney cancer.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome: VHL is a rare disease that runs in some families. It is caused by changes in the VHL gene. An abnormal VHL gene increases the risk of kidney cancer. It also can cause cysts or tumors in the eyes, brain, and other parts of the body. Family members of those with this syndrome can have a test to check for the abnormal VHL gene.
  • Occupation: Some people have a higher risk of getting kidney cancer because they come in contact with certain chemicals or substances in their workplace. Coke oven workers in the iron and steel industry are at risk. workers exposed to asbestos or cadmium also may be at risk.
  • Gender: Males are more likely than females to be diagnosed with kidney cancer. Each year in the United States, about 20,000 men and 12,000 women learn they have kidney cancer.


Common symptoms of kidney cancer include:
  • Blood in the urine (making the urine slightly rusty to deep red)
  • Pain in the side that does not go away
  • A lump or mass in the side or the abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Feeling very tired or having a general feeling of poor health