Kidney Cancer

About Kidney Cancer

Each year, about 28,000 Americans find out they have kidney cancer. The most common type of kidney cancer in adults is renal cell cancer. A less common type is called transitional cell cancer. The most common type of kidney cancer in children is Wilm’s tumor. 

While scientists are working to find the causes of kidney cancer, they do not yet know exactly what causes this disease. Kidney cancer is not a contagious disease; you cannot “catch” it from someone else. The risk of kidney cancer increases with age, and it occurs most often between 50 and 70. Kidney cancer affects almost twice as many men as women. In addition, it is somewhat more common among African American men than white men. Other possible risk factors for kidney cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Some occupational exposures, such as coke oven workers in steel plants or asbestos in the workplace
  • Some types of radiation treatment, such as that used for disorders of the uterus.
  • Heavy, long-term use of phenacetin, a pain relieving drug, which is no longer sold in the U.S.
  • Long-term dialysis treatment
  • An inherited disorder called Von Hippel Lindau Disease.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

In the early stages, kidney cancer usually causes no obvious signs or symptoms. However, as the tumor grows, symptoms may include:

  • blood in the urine
  • a lump or mass in the kidney area

Less often, patients may have a pain in the side that doesn’t go away, high blood pressure or anemia (a decrease in the number of red cells in the blood).

These symptoms can also be caused by less serious problems such as a cyst or an infection. If you have any of these symptoms, check with your doctor. The doctor will do some tests to find out what is causing your problem.

The doctor will check your general health and may perform blood and urine tests. The doctor may also feel the abdominal area for lumps or masses. The doctor usually orders tests to picture the kidneys and nearby organs. These may include:

  • CT scan, MRI or ultrasound, which can show the presence of a tumor and help determine whether it is benign or malignant.
  • An IVP (intravenous pyelogram) a series of x-rays that are taken after a dye has been injected.

If the diagnosis is still in doubt after the above tests, a needle biopsy or cyst aspiration may be done to check a sample of tissue under the microscope for cancer cells.

If kidney cancer is found, the doctor will determine the stage of the disease in order to plan treatment. This may involve more MRI and x-ray studies of the tissues and blood vessels in and around the kidney. Arteriography, a series of x-rays of the blood vessels, may be done to help determine if it will be possible to remove only part of the kidney, or if the entire kidney will need to be removed. A chest x-ray can help to show whether the cancer has spread to the lungs, and bone scans can show whether it has spread to the bones.

Kidney Cancer Treatment