Cancer that Begins in the Kidneys

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs approximately the size of your fist. These organs are located behind the abdominal organs, toward your back. Each kidney is located on either side of your spine.

Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common types of cancer in men and women. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 64,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed and more than 14,000 patients will die from kidney cancer each year. Most patients with kidney cancer are older, with an average age of diagnosis being 64 years of age.

The rate of new kidney cancers has been rising over the past 20 years. Some researchers believe this is because more people have abdominal imaging, tests that can detect kidney cancer in its earliest stages.

The most common type of kidney cancer in adults is renal cell carcinoma. This accounts for more than 90 percent of cancerous tumors of the kidney. There are different sub-types of renal cell carcinoma. Clear cell carcinoma is the most common sub-type.


Your doctor will create a treatment plan that is right for you. The stage of your cancer, your health and overall well-being will shape your treatment.

Stage 1 to 3 cancers are usually treated and managed with surgery. Your doctor will discuss the stage of your cancer. Stage 1 and 2 cancers have not spread outside the kidneys. Stage 3 cancers have grown to nearby veins or spread to lymph nodes.

Surgery options include partial nephrectomy or a radical nephrectomy. A partial nephrectomy removes part of the kidney - usually the area with cancer and a certain area around cancer cells. A radical nephrectomy removes the entire kidney. You may also need to have your lymph nodes removed if cancer has spread outside the kidney.

Observation is recommended after surgery for stage 1 to 3 cancers. Your doctor will watch you closely with regular exams and, when necessary, imaging tests to see if cancer has returned.

If surgery is not an option or necessary for early stage kidney cancer, your treatment plan may include:

  • Surveillance with imaging
  • Local ablation techniques, such as microwave, radio-frequency ablation or cyroablation

Advanced kidney cancer (stage 4), unfortunately, cannot be cured by surgery alone. This stage means that cancer has spread to distant parts of the body including the liver, lung, lymph nodes, bone or other sites. Stage 4 cancer often requires systemic treatments with or without surgery.

These treatments may include oral medication, targeted agents, immunotherapy or combination of immunotherapy and oral medication. Depending on what is right for you, these medicines can be given orally or intravenously. Because advanced kidney is very hard to cure, clinical trials are also an option.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Kidney cancer is among the 10 most common types of cancer in men and women.


Early stage kidney cancer does not usually cause any signs. Larger, locally advanced or cancers that have spread may show some symptoms, including:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower back pain on one side
  • A mass on the side or lower back
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss


If you experience these symptoms or have other concerns about your health, you should schedule an appointment to see your doctor. Your provider will ask your about your personal and family medical history and give you a complete physical exam.

If your doctor finds anything unusual, you will have a CT or MRI of your stomach. These imaging tests can help your doctor diagnose cancer, including its size, severity and if it has spread to other areas of your body.

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