Cancer is a disease that happens when bad cells in your body grow and multiply out of control. Kidney cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys. It can happen to people of all ages. The most common type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma, and it usually happens in adults. This type of kidney cancer starts in the tiny filters in your kidneys. The most common type of kidney cancer in children is called Wilms’ tumor.

How will I know if I have kidney cancer?

Kidney cancer usually does not have any symptoms until it is serious. Sometimes kidney cancer is found by accident, when other tests are being done, before you have any symptoms. If you do notice symptoms, they might include:

  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain in your side that gets worse or won’t go away
  • A lump or bulge in your side or belly area
  • Weight loss without trying to lose weight
  • Fever
  • Feeling very tired

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider (doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant). Having one or more of these symptoms does not always mean you have kidney cancer. Other kidney or urinary tract problems can also cause many of these symptoms.

Your health care provider might want you to have a physical exam and other tests to figure out what is causing your symptoms. Other tests might include:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests (ultrasound, CT, MRI)
  • Kidney biopsy

If these tests show that you have kidney cancer, you will need to see a urologist (a doctor who treats people with urinary tract diseases) and/or an oncologist (a doctor who treats people with cancer) to learn about your treatment options and choose a treatment plan.

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Who gets kidney cancer?

The most common type of kidney cancer is called renal cell carcinoma. There are about 54,000 new cases of renal cell carcinoma in the United States each year. Most people who get this type of kidney cancer are over 55 years old. Some things that can make you more likely to get kidney cancer are:

  • Smoking
  • Being obese
  • High blood pressure
  • Having a family history of kidney cancer
  • Certain genetic (inherited) diseases

Having one of these problems does not mean you will definitely get kidney cancer. You can also get kidney cancer if you don’t have any of these problems.

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What is the treatment for kidney cancer?

The most common treatment for kidney cancer is surgery. The type of surgery you have depends on whether you have two kidneys, whether the cancer was found in one or both kidneys and the size of the tumor in your kidney(s). Your doctor may take out one of your kidneys or part of a kidney. If surgery is not an option, your doctor may recommend a different treatment option, such as:

  • Treatment to kill cancer cells by freezing them
  • Treatment to kill cancer cells by heating them
  • Medicine that works with your immune system to fight the cancer
  • Medicines that prevent cancer from surviving and growing
  • Treatment to kill cancer cells using radiation

More information about the treatment options for kidney cancer is available here.

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What are the complications of kidney cancer?

If you need to have all or part of a kidney removed, and your other kidney is not working well enough to clean your blood, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant. If this happens, you may have some of the complications of kidney failure/ESRD.

Kidney cancer can spread to other parts of your body or come back after it looks like it is gone. The medicines and other types of treatment for kidney cancer may also cause complications. Talk to your doctor about what to expect during and after treatment.

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How can I prevent kidney cancer?

It is not always possible to prevent kidney cancer, but you can take these steps to lower your chances of getting it:

  • Do not smoke or use tobacco. If you smoke, quit now.
  • Keep a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk to your health care provider about healthy ways to lose weight.
  • Keep a healthy blood pressure. If you take blood pressure medicine, take it exactly as your doctor tells you to, and do not skip doses.

If you notice any symptoms, talk to your health care provider immediately. Finding and treating kidney cancer early can help prevent other problems.

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Where can I learn more about kidney cancer?

The National Cancer Institute has more information about kidney cancer in both children and adults here.

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