Arizona Blood & Cancer Specialists Logo

Kidney Cancer

A graphical image of an individual, with their kidneys and bladder highlighted in red, showing the possible locations of kidney cancer.

Most people have two functioning kidneys, each working independently of each other. Otherwise healthy cells can change or grow out of control which can form a mass or tumor. Malignant and indolent tumors are both cancerous tumors found with kidney cancer. Malignant tumors can grow and spread outside of the kidneys to other parts of the body. While an indolent tumor is also cancerous, it typically is contained within the kidney, rarely spreading outside the organ. It is also possible to have a benign kidney tumor that can grow but won’t spread.

Some risk factors for Kidney Cancer are:

Age: Kidney cancer is usually diagnosed in people who are between 50 and 70 years old.

Gender: Men develop kidney cancer at 2 - 3 times more than women.

Race: African Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives are higher risk populations for kidney cancer.

Smoking: Smoking cigarettes doubles one’s risk for developing kidney cancer.

Medications: Overuse of certain painkillers containing Phenacetin, which was banned in the Unites States in 1983, has been linked to transitional cell carcinoma. Diuretics, analgesic pain medication such as aspirin or acetaminophen and ibuprofen also have been linked to kidney cancer.

Exposure: Working with certain substances found in batteries, paints or welding materials, and exposure to the metallic element cadmium may increase this risk for kidney cancer.

Family history: Certain hereditary conditions or syndromes have an increased risk.

  • A first degree relative with kidney cancer (parents, brothers, sisters, children) increases a person’s risk.
  • If extended family members including grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and cousins also have been diagnosed with kidney cancer before the age of 50.
  • Having more than one tumor in the same kidney and/or cancer in both kidneys.

Medical history: People with chronic kidney disease, but not yet on dialysis, may be at a higher risk. People with advanced kidney disease and on long term dialysis may develop cancerous cysts in their kidneys. If they are found early, they can often be removed successfully before any cancer has spread.

Weight: Very obese people are at a higher risk of developing renal cell carcinoma, possibly due to a change in certain hormones that is associated with the disease.

Signs & Symptoms of Kidney Cancer are:

  • Presence of blood in the urine
  • Back or side pain or pressure
  • Mass or lump on the back or side
  • Ankle / leg swelling
  • High blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unexplained fever (not from illness or infection)
  • Rapid onset/growth of a cluster of enlarged veins on a man’s testicle (most often the right testicle)

Many of these symptoms have can other causes besides cancer. It’s important to discuss changes in your health with your provider.

Screening & Diagnostic Testing:

A complete physical exam and medical history should be done. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure. Additional testing may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Imaging: XRay, MRI, Intravenous pyelogram (IVP), Cystoscopy and nephro-ureteroscopy
  • Biopsy

Helpful Patient Resources:

We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and it is an emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.

National Cancer Institute

Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer—Patient Version

American Cancer Society

Kidney Cancer

National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Guidelines for Patients