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.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant tumors, which can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor does not invade or spread.
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:
Symptoms may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Staging tests will be done. The purpose of these tests is to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what extent. Treatment depends on the stage.
Surgery is the most important component of any approach to cure kidney cancer. There is some information suggesting immunotherapies may be of some benefit. Radiation can be used to treat kidney cancer that has spread to the lung, bones, or brain, but it is not a cure. Chemotherapy is not a very effective form of treatment.
Surgery involves the removal of a cancerous tumor, nearby tissue, and possibly nearby lymph nodes. Surgeries to treat kidney cancer include:
This is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. External radiation therapy is directed at the tumor from a source outside the body.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms including pill, injection, and through a tube called a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body destroying mostly cancer cells but also some healthy cells.
This procedure involves the use of drugs like interleukin-2 and interferon alpha to help the immune system fight and destroy cancer cells.
Targeted therapy includes using medications called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These medications have been shown to increase the survival rate in people with kidney cancer. Another class of drugs called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors may also help people with kidney cancer live longer.
American Cancer Society
Kidney Cancer Association
Canadian Cancer Society
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
About kidney cancer. Kidney Cancer Association website. Available at: http://www.kidneycancer.org/knowledge/learn/about-kidney-cancer/. Updated January 29, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.
Kidney cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/kidneycancer/index. Accessed June 20, 2013.
Kidney cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/kidney. Accessed June 20, 2013.
Renal cell carcinoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated June 4, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Mohei Abouzied, MD; Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.