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Kidney Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jul 06, 2022

    Kidney Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

    Kidney cancer is characterized by the growth of malignant tumors arising in certain kidney cells. This cancer or carcinoma can gradually spread or metastasize to the adjoining cells and gradually to the surrounding organs and other body parts.

    The incidence of kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer or renal cell carcinoma, has witnessed a steady rise in the recent past.

    kidney cancer

    The earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the higher are the chances of the treatment being effective. However, the condition can recur despite treatment. Not getting treatment in the early stages of the disease can be life-threatening.

    Types of Kidney Cancer

    Also, there are different types of kidney cancer. They are:

    • Renal cell carcinoma: It occurs in the proximal renal tubules that together form the kidney’s filtration system.
    • Lymphoma: Lymphoma results in enlarged kidneys and is linked with lymphadenopathy or enlarged lymph nodes in different parts of our body. These parts include the neck, chest, and abdominal cavity.
    • Sarcoma: This type of cancer is rare. It grows in the kidney’s soft tissue, which is called capsule – a thin layer of fat or connective tissue around the kidney.
    • Urothelial carcinoma: This starts in the renal pelvis – a part of the kidney where urine is collected before passing to the bladder.
    • Wilms tumor: This type is the most common in kids and so it must have a different treatment approach.

    Symptoms of Kidney Cancer

    The symptoms of kidney cancer are usually very similar to that of other medical conditions of the kidney of lesser severity.

    Some examples of such conditions are kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTI). There are no specific symptoms that indicate renal cancer. And so, it can be diagnosed only through medical tests. 

    Some possible symptoms of kidney cancer are as below:

    • Blood in urine, making it appear red or dark colored
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Unexplained weakness
    • Unexplained pain in the lower back
    • Inflammation or lump on the side
    • Pain along the side
    • Inflammation of the testicular veins
    • Inflammation of the legs and ankles
    • Recurrent fever, not caused due to the flu or the common cold
    • Loss of appetite
    • Rapid, unexpected weight loss
    • Hypertension or high blood pressure for a prolonged period
    • Night sweats
    • Pain in the bones
    • Anemia, in rare cases

    Causes and Risk Factors

    The cause of kidney cancer has yet to be identified due to a lack of medical evidence.

    But the likely causes and risk factors of renal cell carcinoma are:

    • Smoking: Persistent smoking is one of the leading causes of kidney cancer. The more the number of years of smoking, the higher may be the risk of developing cancer of the kidneys.
    • Genetic history: A family history of renal cell carcinoma makes an individual more susceptible to developing this condition. Other hereditary conditions of the kidneys may also increase the risk of renal cancer.
    • Gender: Men are twice as likely to develop this medical condition as compared to women.
    • Age: There is a significantly higher prevalence of this disease amongst people in their 60s and 70s than those who are in their 50s.
    • Hypertension: High blood pressure is believed to raise the risk of developing renal cancer.
    • Prolonged dialysis: A prolonged period of treatment with dialysis for advanced kidney disorders may lead to cancer of the kidneys.
    • Obesity: Individuals with BMI or body mass index of 30 and above are usually more prone to developing carcinoma of the kidneys.
    • Diuretics (water pills): Drugs that specialize in eliminating body fluids may also increase the risk. However, there is no concrete evidence to prove the same.
    • Cadmium: There may be a connection between cadmium exposure and kidney cancer. Cadmium may increase the cancer-causing effect of smoking.
    • Asbestos: This may cause kidney cancer according to some studies.

    Diagnosis of Kidney Cancer

    The diagnostic procedure for renal cell carcinoma follows a combination of physical examination, investigation on medical history, and lab tests. Sometimes, tests for certain diseases may lead to the diagnosis of renal cancer.

    Let’s take a closer look at the process:

    • Physical examination: After taking your patient history, including any symptoms you are feeling, your doctor will then perform a physical exam. This exam typically involves directly observing parts of your body, palpating (touching), auscultating (listening with a stethoscope), and measuring your vital signs.
    • Investigation on personal and family medical history: Your doctor is likely to ask you about your personal and family medical history. This will help him/her evaluate whether your present symptoms may be an underlying cause of other personal or genetic disorders. Make sure that you take your medical records – doctors’ prescriptions and medical tests – for your doctor to analyze them closely.

    You can also expect your doctor to ask about the drugs that you are currently taking (or have taken in the past). 

    These medications include non-prescription or OTC (over-the-counter) drugs, herbals, vitamins, and supplements. Why? Because there are certain drugs that may interact with your present symptoms.

    These can worsen the condition or lead to other complications. So it is important for your doctor to know your medications to analyze whether these may interact with your present symptoms.

    Treatment for Kidney Cancer

    Doctors determine treatment based on the severity of the disease and its metastasis. Below are the available treatment options:

    • Surgery: An entire kidney or only the affected part of the kidney is surgically removed. This prevents cancer from metastasizing to other organs. It is usually considered to be the most common and preferred line of treatment.
    • Radiation therapy: This is effective in destroying cancer cells and soothing pain when renal cancer has metastasized or spread to the bone.
    • Chemotherapy: This includes the administration of heavy-dose drugs to destroy cancer cells. However, this treatment may not be very beneficial for cancer of the kidneys as the organ is often resistant to these drugs.
    • Targeted therapy: This uses drugs for targeting specific cancer cells and is usually the preferred treatment for advanced cancer of the kidneys.
    • Immunotherapy or biological therapy: This uses the immune system of the body to attack the cancer cells. 
    • Arterial embolization: In this process, a gelatin sponge or other objects are injected through a catheter to block the main blood vessel of the kidneys. This cuts the blood supply to the malignant tumor, forcing it to shrink. 

    Learn more about kidney care and disease prevention here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    John Paul Abrina, MD

    Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jul 06, 2022

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