Kidney Cancer

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Kidney cancer, also known as renal cell carcinoma (RCC), is a type of cancer that originates in the kidneys. The kidneys are vital organs responsible for filtering waste products and excess fluids from the blood, which are then excreted as urine. Kidney cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the kidney start to grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor.

At the University of Kansas Department of Urology, we focus on advanced care and personalized treatment plans. Our skilled urologists utilize cutting-edge technology to diagnose and address Kidney cancer and various urologic conditions. We are dedicated to your well-being and provide compassionate care to enhance your quality of life.

Types of Kidney Cancer

  1. Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC): This is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for about 90% of all cases. RCC has several subtypes, including clear cell RCC, papillary RCC, and chromophobe RCC, each with distinct characteristics.
  2. Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC): This type of kidney cancer begins in the lining of the renal pelvis, which is the part of the kidney that connects to the ureter. Transitional cell carcinoma is less common than RCC.



The signs and symptoms of kidney cancer can vary, but common ones include:

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria): This may appear as pink, red, or dark brown urine
  • Pain in the side or lower back: Persistent pain or discomfort in the area around the kidney
  • A palpable mass or lump in the abdomen or side
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and night sweats (less common)


The exact cause of kidney cancer is often unknown, but several risk factors have been identified, including:

  • Smoking: Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for kidney cancer.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing kidney cancer.
  • Family history: A family history of kidney cancer may increase the risk.
  • Hypertension: Those with high blood pressure can be more prone to kidney cancer.
  • Certain genetic conditions: Inherited genetic mutations, such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease and hereditary papillary renal cell carcinoma, can predispose individuals to kidney cancer.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals and substances: Occupational exposure to substances like asbestos, cadmium, and organic solvents may raise the risk.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop kidney cancer than women.

Detecting kidney cancer at an early stage can improve treatment outcomes, so individuals with risk factors should undergo regular check-ups and screenings as recommended by their healthcare provider.


  • Medical History and Physical Examination: A healthcare provider will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination, looking for signs and symptoms that may suggest kidney cancer.
  • Imaging Tests: Various imaging tests can help diagnose kidney cancer and determine its stage. These include:
    • Ultrasound: An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to create images of the kidneys.
    • CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: A CT scan provides detailed cross-sectional images of the kidneys and surrounding structures.
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): MRI scans use powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the kidneys.
    • Chest X-ray: To check if cancer has spread to the lungs.
  • Biopsy: In some cases, a small sample of kidney tissue may be obtained through a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. However, this is not always necessary, and the decision to perform a biopsy depends on various factors.


The choice of treatment for kidney cancer depends on factors such as the cancer’s stage, type, and the patient’s overall health. Common treatment options include:

  • Surgery: The primary treatment for localized kidney cancer is surgery. Depending on the size and stage of the tumor, surgical options may include:
    • Partial Nephrectomy: Removal of only the tumor and a small part of healthy kidney tissue.
    • Radical Nephrectomy: Removal of the entire affected kidney.
    • Lymph Node Dissection: Removal of nearby lymph nodes if cancer has spread.
  • Ablation Therapy: In some cases, minimally invasive techniques like radiofrequency ablation or cryoablation may be used to destroy small kidney tumors.
  • Targeted Therapy: Targeted drugs like tyrosine kinase inhibitors or immune checkpoint inhibitors can be used to treat advanced kidney cancer by blocking specific molecules involved in cancer growth.
  • Immunotherapy: These drugs boost the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.
  • Radiation Therapy: It may be used to treat kidney cancer in certain situations, particularly when surgery is not an option.
  • Active Surveillance: Small tumors often have very low malignant potential and low risk of metastasis, therefore, careful and active monitoring may be more appropriate than active treatment.


The outlook and prognosis for kidney cancer depend on several factors, including the stage at diagnosis and the specific type of kidney cancer.

  • Early-stage kidney cancer (Stage I and II) has a better prognosis, with a high chance of cure through surgery.
  • Advanced-stage kidney cancer (Stage III and IV) is more challenging to treat but can still be managed with various therapies.
  • The survival rate for kidney cancer has improved over the years due to advances in treatment options.
  • Regular follow-up care and monitoring are essential to detect any recurrence or metastasis early.

It’s important for individuals diagnosed with kidney cancer to work closely with their healthcare team to develop a personalized treatment plan and to maintain open communication about their prognosis and treatment options. Early detection and timely treatment can significantly improve the chances of successful outcomes for kidney cancer patients.

Prevention & Management

Preventing kidney cancer and effectively managing the condition involve a combination of lifestyle choices and medical interventions:


  • Avoid Tobacco Use: Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke can significantly reduce the risk of kidney cancer.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Staying within a healthy weight range through a balanced diet and regular physical activity can lower the risk of kidney cancer.
  • Control Blood Pressure: Managing high blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medications can reduce the risk of kidney cancer.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water can help maintain kidney health.
  • Limit Occupational Exposure: If you work with potentially harmful substances, take appropriate safety measures and wear protective gear.


  • Treatment: Following a diagnosis, work closely with healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on the stage and type of kidney cancer.
  • Surgical Aftercare: After kidney surgery, adhere to post-operative care instructions and attend regular follow-up appointments.
  • Medications: If prescribed targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or other medications, take them as directed and report any side effects to your healthcare team.
  • Lifestyle Management: Continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise to support overall well-being.
  • Emotional Support: Coping with kidney cancer can be emotionally challenging. Seek emotional support from friends, family, support groups, or mental health professionals.
  • Regular Monitoring: Kidney cancer survivors should undergo regular check-ups and monitoring to detect any recurrence or complications early. This may involve imaging scans, blood tests, and physical examinations.


Kidney cancer is a serious condition, but with early detection and advances in treatment, many individuals can achieve positive outcomes. Preventive measures such as avoiding tobacco, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and managing risk factors like high blood pressure are crucial for reducing the likelihood of kidney cancer. Your healthcare provider will collaborate with you to discuss your treatment options and provide resources to help you understand your condition and manage it best during this time.

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